Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Y Tu Mamá También

Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN                 B-                   
aka:  And Your Mama Too
Mexico  (105 mi)  2001  d: Alfonso Cuarón  

Play with babies and you end up washing diapers.
―Luisa (Maribel Verdú)

Nico and Dani go south of the border ― the film opens with a fucking scene, followed by another fucking scene ― meet Tenoch and Julio ― Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal, who recently starred in AMORES PERROS (2000), sending their respective girlfriends away in style for their Italian vacation, where both boys (one rich, raised by an indigenous nanny, and the other working class) seem to do everything together, mostly smoke weed, take ecstasy, drink too much, and pursue every available girl.  As a lark, they invite an older attractive Spanish women named Luisa (Maribel Verdú) on a fictitious Mexican beach trip and much to their surprise she accepts, leading to what amounts to a road movie involving this threesome.  While the film is funny and entertaining, it’s also blatantly sexist and homophobic, with an annoying habit of constant interruption by a narrator who literally stops the film, and trying to be cute says what he has to say, which, except for a circumstance or two at the end, is an irritating and largely irrelevant device, where too much information is packed into this brief pause, and it simply interferes with the rhythm of the film, bringing to a complete halt what is otherwise a talkative and very fast-paced comical film with plenty of drugs, sex, and profanity, and just a hint at the end that this film might be about something more.  A transnational production released in 39 countries, this is the film that put director Alfonso Cuarón on the map, drawing international acclaim, nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay, where according to data compiled at Eric C. Johnson | Behold, the Mutants Shall Wither... for the year 2002, the film is listed at #3 on Best of the Year lists by Jonathan Rosenbaum, #6 by Roger Ebert, and #6 by Andrew Sarris, breaking Mexican box office records with the biggest opening ever for a Mexican film, and winning a bevy of Awards on the international film festival circuit, quickly declared the director’s masterpiece.  Yet people are so quick to declare films masterpieces, almost like it’s a universally accepted conclusion, but many would beg to differ.  Instead this may be Cuarón’s most commercially accessible film, the one that put his name on the international market as a rising star in the industry, not that different than Dennis Hopper with Easy Rider (1969), which was an instant hit.  Does anyone believe that film is a masterpiece?  Both are flawed in major ways, but still intriguing.  If you include this film in the pantheon of movie masterpieces, then you’d have to include an additional thousands of others, yet one narrow view of what constitutes a masterpiece might be the greatest 100 films ever made.  If you’re going to describe a film as elite, then let’s make it elite, using a distinguished criteria that is near impossible to achieve, yet think about the films that would be included on that list in the history of film, for instance this list from the BFI Sight and Sound poll taken every decade, Critics' top 100 | BFI, many of which are themselves disputable, and you begin to get an idea on what really constitutes a masterpiece.  This film is not in that company and is hardly groundbreaking, so let’s hold the presses on anointing this film into the Holy Grail of films.  The film is what Cuarón wanted it to be, a commercial success, choosing commerce over depth.  While others may differ and embrace the film with more fervent passion, let’s at least allow that there are differing points of view and that some, at least, are not so enamored with this film, despite the poignant finale, reaching for depths previously absent from the film, finding its jolting narrative style irritating, satirically modeled after Godard’s Masculine Feminine (in 15 Acts) (Masculin Féminin: 15 faits précis) (1966), the first time he used a third-person narrator, which some found equally irritating, though many have suggested the film’s exhilarated rush of youthful energy is a tribute to the French New Wave.

Another film with brother Carlos Cuarón’s imprint all over it (co-written by both brothers), it should be noted that the graphic locker room conversations between guys is gross and more sexist than ever, representing the worst of machismo primal instincts, and while they’re eventually cut down to size by an enterprising young woman, neither one of these lunkheads is particularly likeable, seemingly cast from the Dumb and Dumber playbook, where sexual exhibitionism passes for freedom here, but it’s hardly the case, as really these two guys are confined, almost imprisoned by their narrow views of male sexuality, which accounts for the sum total of their entire universe, all that they know or really care about until they are schooled on other matters, suddenly becoming human, showing vulnerable signs, but one wonders how long that will last in the company of their fraternity brethren who all think and feel the same way.  Nonetheless, this is a fairly accurate portrayal of raging teenage hormones from a couple of overprivileged kids whose idea of happiness is to party all night long and get wasted, hopefully screwing some girl in the process and bragging about it afterwards, always embellishing their exploits, where they are always the center of attention, pampered and totally supported by their rich parents who are rarely in the picture, as these kids are free to do what they want.  The burst of energy that opens the picture is a grotesque display of crass male sexuality and hedonistic self-absorption, where women are reduced to secondary roles and for all practical purposes ignored except when salaciously objectified through male sexual conquests, yet what transpires is viewed through a lens of screwball comedy dialogue that accelerates with a dizzying pace that may leave viewers somewhat breathless, where much like his first film, a prevailing theme in both is remaining stuck in a perpetual state of arrested adolescence, where this is little more than a masturbatory fantasy.  While this manic energy is meant to be lighthearted and fun, many would likely avoid these two screwballs at all costs, seeing through their adolescent act of fake machismo, as really they’re just a couple of knuckleheads, where this film is little more than escapist entertainment, though brief interludes late in the film offer a darker edge in what amounts to a loss of innocence.  Sex here is viewed as little more than commercial exploitation, as it’s designed to put paying customers in the seats with an age-old industry presumption that sex sells (though curiously the studio cut 5-minutes from the film in the American video release to comply with an R-rating acceptable to the major video outlets, as Blockbuster, Walmart and Kmart wouldn’t shelve NC-17 films ― just one of the negative effects of transglobal corporate funding).  Yet Cuarón has something else in mind that only becomes evident once it turns into a road trip, getting these kids out of their habitual routines, mingling with an outside world that has more pressing issues, though oblivious to the world passing outside their car window, eventually becoming a more subversive take on sexuality and its relationship with a Mexican identity, including issues of race and class, and despite a few detours the film remains focused on the experience of the two boys, neither one of which will stick with us afterwards.  While the long game may be more satisfying, one must endure the incessant narrative intrusions by Daniel Giménez Cacho, a carryover from Love in the Time of Hysteria (Sólo Con Tu Pareja) (1991) a decade earlier, whose presence in this film can only be described as irritating, where the voiceover storyline almost feels like a separate film, distinctly different in tone and content, attempting to add a greater degree of social complexity through an omniscient, all-seeing perspective that is coldly indifferent.

While many may be charmed by the stupid flirtations that open the film, it doesn’t really get started until they hit the road, beautifully filmed by Emmanuel Lubezki, capturing small, intimate moments, yet also expressed by the mystical sounds on the radio that immediately slow the pace of the film, Brian Eno - By This River - YouTube (3:02), heading for an imaginary paradise beach on the Pacific coast they’ve tantalizingly described as “Heaven’s Mouth,” with Luisa calling their bluff and actually expressing an interest, which sets the machinations in motion, with the boys on sexual overdrive, each envisioning their own lurid sexual fantasy, while Luisa surprisingly is up for the adventure, smoking plenty of weed, basically toying with each boy, having sex with each of them one at a time, admiring their enthusiasm over the finished product, as sex to these boys is done in just over a minute, with no regard whatsoever to a woman’s pleasure, where it’s built-up in their minds to be this exotic experience, yet remains altogether pathetic in Luisa’s eyes.  Charmed by their effervescent display of youthful energy, this getaway is exactly what she needs, retreating into her motel room alone at night in tears, having just separated from her husband, it feels like an impulsive and rebellious act, a yearning for liberation that develops by immersing herself in the intoxicating beauty of the seemingly endless Mexican shorelines that show no signs of tourist population or commercial development.  Merging into the natural beauty where the ocean meets the land, she hopes to heal herself psychologically, but at the same time she has to deal with these two nitwits and balance their juvenile antics and self-destructive tendencies, rivals in love, and every other department, turning inwardly morose, not really knowing what to do with themselves without constant gratification, yet still only thinking of themselves.  Much like the Brazilian film of Carlos Diegues, Bye Bye Brazil (Bye Bye Brasil) (1980), part of what’s most interesting is viewing what’s seen along the road, like road blockades where peasants ask for money, or armed officials hassling the indigenous poor, all coinciding with the ruling party’s first electoral defeat in 70 years, with barely any reference in the storyline, though locals suddenly appear, where real-life quietly intrudes and all but consumes this fantasy adventure, focusing more on Luisa’s train of thought with more mature aspirations, developing a rapport with the locals that she befriends, staying on even after the boys return home.  By accentuating interior landscapes that are more in synch with the natural surroundings and removing the focus from the boys’ dysfunction (which appears to break down along class barriers), the film grows more somber and reflective, including a wonderful shot that comes out of nowhere, with the camera ignoring the three patrons in a roadside restaurant and instead follows the older woman waiting on them back to the kitchen, with another old woman wrapped in a shawl dancing while several other women are seen listening to the radio while casually preparing the food, a simply delightful observation before offering a fatalistic view of the future, with the narrator commenting on what will ultimately happen to this pristine paradise after the land and fishing rights are sold to the global tourist industry, putting the locals out of work, driving them into the cities where they can only expect a pittance in wages, completely uprooting the harmonious simplicity of their lives with what amounts to a nightmarish urban scenario.  As the adventure nears an end, the debauchery of Tenoch and Julio knows no limits, Y Tu Mamá También - Dance Scene ("Si No Te ... - YouTube (3:17), with Luisa laying down her own ground rules, turning the tables on the boys, who are mostly sidelined from jealous bickering over their wounded pride, suddenly viewed through a woman’s gaze, allowing Luisa to call the shots, inverting the machismo syndrome when the boys’ ménage à trois fantasy reverts to overt homoeroticism, joining in on one raucous final celebration that seems directly aimed at viewers and their own self-indulgent lifestyles (staring straight into the camera), suggesting we are all complicit, though more perturbed by the callousness of the rich, showing no sympathy for the plight of the poor when visiting and destroying the last vestiges of an unspoiled Eden, being more concerned with having available ice for their margaritas.  What starts out as an endless party slowly fizzles out, like the youthful innocence of childhood coming to an end and the onset of responsibility begins, ending in a much darker place, exquisitely brought to a close, however, beautifully captured in a rare yet unfiltered Frank Zappa guitar solo that plays over the end credits, Frank Zappa - Watermelon In Easter Hay - YouTube (9:12).

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