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'Y Tu Mama Tambien'

'Y Tu Mama Tambien' mixes its themes with great success

Friday, April 19, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

The Mexican film "Y Tu Mama Tambien," now at the Squirrel Hill Theater, features some strange bedfellows, none as unlikely as its blend of seemingly incompatible genres -- teen sex comedy, road movie, sociopolitical critique, philosophical commentary.

'Y Tu Mama Tambien'

RATING: Unrated; contains nudity, explicit sex and strong language. Subtitled.

STARRING: Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal, Maribel Verdu.

DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuaron.

WEB SITE: ytumamatambien.com



By the time it's over, you may feel as if you've known its young protagonists for their entire lives or, at least, as if you've experienced the emotional highs and lows of their eventful summer, which feels all at once like the beginning, middle and end of a larger journey.

On the surface, Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) appear to be characters from the south-of-the-border version of "American Pie," only without all the gross comic foreplay.

In the movie's very first scene, the camera peeks around the corner to hover over Tenoch and his girlfriend energetically coupling. Next, we watch Julio and his girlfriend do the same. And then, the girls are off to Europe for the summer, leaving our 17-year-old protagonists to smoke dope and obsess on sex.

At a family wedding, the boys meet Luisa (Maribel Verdu), a pretty Spaniard who is married to Tenoch's distant cousin. When the drooling duo learns she wants to visit some beaches, they invite her to their private seaside paradise, which exists only in their fevered imaginations.

A few days later, she has good reasons of her own to accept the invitation. The boys won't let a little thing like a fictional destination prevent them from embarking on the kind of teen-age male fantasy that predates the summer of '42, and I'm not just referring to the movie.

What happens may be predictable, if not how or why. But the subtext that darkens this coming-of-age tale is what director Alfonso Cuaron depicts happening just outside the cocoon that the three central characters are spinning around themselves.

As they drive through the countryside, soldiers stop cars and interrogate people. A narrator breaks in every so often to tell us about something that has happened to a poor person -- the appropriation of his livelihood for the benefit of the rich, injury or death caused by indifference to his needs, the indignity of being taken for granted.

The division exists even among our protagonists. Tenoch's father is a wealthy and somewhat corrupt politician. The family name, Iturbide, is the same as that of the first emperor of independent Mexico. Julio has been reared by his mother, who works long hours to support her children (his sister is a political activist seeking change). They bear the revolutionary surname Zapata.

As for Luisa, she is told at one point that she is afraid to confront her freedom. Her husband is one of many males in the film with a missing or corrupt father and a dominating mother.

The reminder of these realities, contrasted with the intimate immediacy of our trio's adventures, gives the movie an emotional poignancy that, along with the hand-held camera, makes us feel less like voyeurs than vicarious participants. That leaves us vulnerable to the powerful revelations of what finally happens to everyone after the freedom of summer ends.

I couldn't always make the connection between the personal journey of the characters and the political commentary that accompanies it. Cuaron says the movie is about the search for identity, by both its teen-age protagonists and "a country going through its teen-age years and trying to find itself as an adult nation."

That may be more evident to the Mexican audiences that have made "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (it translates to, "And your mother, too") a box-office sensation in that country. The fact that it is also becoming an art-house hit in the United States speaks to the success Cuaron achieves in touching more universal themes.

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