By Afra Nariman
Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron
Stars: Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, Maribel Verdú
Two carefree 17 year old friends named Julio (played by Gael Bernal) and Tenoch (played by Diego Luna), who come from different socio-economic families during a time of political turmoil in Mexico, hit the road with a recently heartbroken older woman who they meet at a high profile wedding. The complications of being a teenager on the way to adulthood are complicated further with the presence of the beautiful Luisa (played by Maribel Verdú), as is their friendship and their view of the world around them.
If I were to edit the way I explained the plot summary and make it more detailed and graphic; you would get an incomplete idea of what this film is all about, and may balk at the 4/4 star rating that I am giving it. On the surface, Y Tu Mama Tambien is a classic teenage road trip movie about sex, drugs, and yes, more sex. But you would be underestimating director Alfonso Cuaron by a wide margin. Although this film is largely about two 17 year olds bragging about, arguing about and seeking sexual conquests; it is also a film about friendship, culture, adventure, freedom, the blissfulness of youth, life, death, what comes in between and how you should live in the years you have on this Earth. It also speaks to the social/political atmosphere of Mexico in the late 1990’s, which was tense and problematic to say the least.
Although none of the characters are inherently political, the politics of such a controversial time is constantly surrounding them. Tenoch comes from a rich family and his father is a politician. On the other hand, Julio comes from a lower-middle class family, and often pokes fun at Tenoch, calling him a rich kid. Through some of their interactions and as revealed in some of the context provided to us by the consistent narrator of the film; the differences between the two friends, based on their backgrounds and the expectations put on them by their families are representative of the socio-economic/political tension in Mexico at the time. It’s also worth noting that Luisa, the older woman who seems to have control over the two friends for the entirety of the film, is from Spain and may represent Spain’s influence on Mexico. Her separation from the two boys, and her influence on the friendship of Tenoch and Julio,” would be interpreted as Mexico’s gained independence, but Spain’s long lasting influence on the socio-economic situation that is still prevalent in Mexico. There are also other political references in the film, such as the protestors.
It may now seem like I’m saying that the film is 100% political. It isn’t. The film is extremely fast paced and entertaining. The regular interruptions by the narrator help us in building a familiarity with each character and get to know their individual depth and background information efficiently. The film is funny, provocative, and real. Partly because of Cuaron’s writing/directing, partly due to the incredible acting of the three characters and partly due to the story, its setting and the way it transpires, makes this film extremely engaging and immersive. From the very beginning you become entranced in the story. It’s exciting, fun and outrageous but its also meaningful, insightful and can even be considered a meditation on the nature of time, life and death.
The film constantly illustrates the deep-rooted and beautiful culture of Mexico. One of the most notable examples of this is when their car breaks down and the three travelers stay in a local village. While there, Luisa meets Martina, a 98 year old woman who remembers everything in her life. Later, when they resume their trip, Luisa reflects on what she realized when meeting Martina. She wonders how she would be remembered by people when she’s gone. She suggests that people are still present even after they die, through their impact on others and the memories they create in this world. The morality in our actions matter because, our connections with others are how we will be remembered. It is revealed that Luisa was approaching her death the whole time. Her reflection on Martina’s lessons, her curiosity of how she will be remembered and her short, but insightful thoughts and advice signify the film’s essence. While they are in paradise, on an isolated beach, she says to her young companions:
The narrator adds at another point:
The main overall message that can be taken away from the film then, is to not waste your life, our time here is not infinite, so embrace life, don’t shy away from experiences. Dive right in. Give yourself up. Don’t let the little things get in the way of what really matters; living a life that is good, enjoyable and meaningful.
Y Tu Mama Tambien also tells the story of two teenage boys who are in the midst of a transition into adulthood. This is displayed as the two boys’ friendship gradually evolves and complicates due to the realities of impending adulthood, as evidenced by the drama that arises between the two friends, namely due to sex and love. Additionally, the distinction between the carefree bliss-fullness of youth and the stressful reality of adulthood is highlighted in multiple scenes in which the two boys are laughing, drinking and celebrating, while in the same camera shot, we can see Luisa on the phone, crying and having a very real and emotional conversation with her recent ex-boyfriend.
The film walks the line between teenage sex-comedy and philosophically insightful road film. The result is as intended. Your eyes will be glued to the television, you will be wildly entertained; but you will also think. You will think as you are watching the film and you will surely think for days after watching it. It makes you ponder the delicacy of life, consider the unpredictability of death and the fleeting nature of time; not to mention that it paints a harrowing portrait of Mexico’s political climate at the time and shows you a side of Mexico’s culture that is rarely shown as elegantly, accurately or beautifully as in this film. You will enjoy every minute of Y Tu Mama Tambien and learn a great deal about Mexico, the world and yourself by the end of it.