“Wow, that was practically a porno,” exclaimed one viewer upon exiting Images. That summary belittles the value of “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” but the movie may help explain the success of the porn industry. Filmed on location in Mexico City, Puebla and Oaxaca, Mexico, this coming-of-age story directed by Alfonso Cuaren illustrates that the true currency of this world is lust.
While the film may not always flatter Mexico, it does celebrate the passion of the Mexican people. Tenoch (Diego Luna), the son of an economic adviser to the President, lives the life of an aristocrat. As charmed as his life seems, Tenoch has experienced tumultuous times, highlighted by eight months of exile during which he waited for the scandalous news of his father’s sale of rotten food to the masses to blow over.
Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) lives with his mother and sister; his father is absent. While the friendship of Tenoch and Julio rests on a mutual equality – a common denominator of a love for drugs and music – the difference in their social status continually makes itself evident and grates on their friendship.
After a passionate goodbye to their young girlfriends who leave to tour Europe, Tenoch and Julio find themselves at a wedding full of the elite circles of Mexico. With mariachis playing and cowboys promenading, Tenoch encounters for the first time his cousin’s beautiful wife Luisa (Maribel Verda). Tenoch and Julio try to tempt Luisa to go with them on a road trip in search of the fictional Boca del Cielo, an exotic and secluded Mexican beach that really only exists in their imagination. While at first the superficially modest Luisa demurely refuses, some marital troubles serve as a reminder of what she could be missing, and she calls Tenoch and asks if the offer is still good.
On this trip through the countryside of Mexico, a sultry love triangle forms between Tenoch, Julio and Luisa. Their relationship transcends the traditional barriers of age, sexual orientation and social class to unite in an orgy of passion. During a road trip fueled by desire, Tenoch and Julio somehow manage to bring Luisa to Boca del Cielo, a fantasy of theirs that turns into reality. Peppered with confessions of betrayal and reactions to those forfeitures of confidence, the road trip excites and saddens the audience.
This film not only depicts lust in the sexual sense, but also juxtaposes a desire for intercourse with the rapacious actions of corrupt Mexican politicians. No type of person can eschew this lust – not the Harvard-trained economist, the English professor or the dental hygienist, as they and the two hormone-driven young men all at times lose themselves to the same desire.
At different moments in the movie, a smooth male voice interposes an explanation of the social reality of the young men’s surroundings or to tell the future of the people that they encounter. Along with these interludes, Cuaron employs some interesting cinematography, such as underwater filming and sharp angles of lovers in bed. Unlike other films that attempt to mimic the ingenuity of the cinematography of other films, “Y Tu Mama Tambien” remains confident of its own worth. While Cuaran’s techniques fail to give the film a distinct flavor, the vitality of the Mexican people and their similarly fiercely beautiful countryside succeed in enchanting the viewer.
At times, the viewer is tempted to idealize the lives of these carefree adventurers, but reality intervenes through the interposing voice, phone calls from home and outbursts of weeping brought on by memories of lovers’ infidelities. A similar sadness develops in the viewer; this sadness stems from a genuine realization about the frailty of humanity.
Fidelity is a principle broken by men since the puberty of ages past. These adolescent men are raised knowing never to touch a friend’s lover, but immature desire seems to win out. The transgressions of young men may not surprise society, but people easily forget the sins of adults. As permanent as adolescent friendships can seem, they and the institution of marriage both can similarly fail. Friends and lovers who form the permanent constellation of one’s life can fade, but, as Luisa reminds Tenoch and Julio before they depart, one must remain “flexible like the sea.”
A Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign Film, “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” which plays at Images Cinema through May 9 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., is a ride not to be missed.