This week I review a foreign film for which I didn’t need subtitles (except with all the sexual slang. No one taught me those words in Spanish class).
Y tu mamá también (2001)
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón and Carlos Cuarón
Summary: Two young men, Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna), from Mexico City go on a cross country trip with an older woman, Luisa (Maribel Verdú), in the process discover some things about class, sex, and friendship.
Things I liked: When Jano calls Luisa to tell her he cheated on her she’s wearing just a shirt and panties, and the panties are borderline granny panties. It’s not attractive, but it makes her seem that much more vulnerable and a little pathetic when she gets the news. There’s also a sequence where Julio is running around in his tighty whities and it’s very unattractive, but kind of supports the idea that he’s not half the stud he thinks he is. I love the highway scenes on the highway because it really shows the weirdness that is driving the highway in Mexico. The narration about Tenoch and Julio using each other’s bathrooms highlights the class difference between them very well—it’s a nice way of showing it without hitting you over the heads with it. The movie seems really determined to constantly bring you back to the harsh realities of life for most Mexicans. In some places this works wonderfully, but in others it’s just distracting. One place I particularly liked it was a sequence where Julio, Tenoch and Luisa are driving and through the windows you see a truck of armed soldiers pass them then stop and go after some poor men standing by the side of the road. What’s particularly telling is that the characters don’t really notice it. I like that the actors look like real people; okay, I don’t know anyone who looks like Gael Garcia Bernal, but I feel like I could know someone who looks like him. They aren’t glammed up. The note that Luisa leaves Jano on the phone really got to me for some reason. It’s the combination of what she says—a few things that hint at what she’s really feeling then a lot of menial details (“pick up your clothes from the cleaners” etc); that combined with the camera work is really effective. The camera shots are often distant and that almost makes you feel like a voyeur. Like you’re spying on these people and aren’t supposed to be watching. It also allows you to see everything that’s going on and get a full perspective on the characters’ reactions, etc. When Luisa and Tenoch have sex it’s very obvious he doesn’t know what he’s doing which is realistic when you consider his age. The camera work when Tenoch and Julio are in the leaf covered pool is beautiful. Tenoch getting so upset to learn his girlfriend had cheated on him with his best friend, when he has just fucked his cousin’s wife and apparently slept with his best friend’s girl shows a common type of sexual hypocrisy, once again without beating you over the head. I love the shot where Luisa is saying goodbye to Jano on the phone and reflected in the glass next to her you see the guys playing ping pong. It beautifully illustrates the differences in what this trip means to him versus her. I like the way the movie tells you the fate of so many of the people they run into, including the pigs that wreck their campsite. It kind of highlights the way so many people come in and out of your life and you never know what happens to them. For whatever reason it’s sadder to me that Julio and Tenoch never saw each other again than it is that Luisa died. Though to be honest, neither was much of a surprise. The last line of the film is a double entendre that doesn’t really translate: It can either mean “Give me the bill” or “I had a realization.” Not only do I think that captures a lot about the moment, it allows me to show off my knowledge of Spanish.
Things I liked less: The scene at the beginning with the traffic jam caused by the pedestrian from Michoacán being killed is a little random. I get that that’s the point, but for me, it really didn’t work. The scene in the restaurant where the camera leaves our characters and goes into the kitchen where the poor people are cooking and dancing and listening to music. I get that it’s trying to show the social stratification, but it’s very strange. Not sure what I think about the way the narration is inserted, where it goes totally silent before the narrator comes in. I like the narration, I’m just not sure I like the way it’s incorporated. I wasn’t that bothered by it, but I feel like it needs to be said that there’s a lot of penis in the movie. Like naked time all over the place. Don’t watch this one with the parents.
Rating: I was surprised by how much I liked this one, because I’m often annoyed by all those films that are about the “gritty reality of modern life”. Four out of five jars of peanut butter.