12 May 2010

Not Your Typical Road Trip Film (Thank God) Y Tu Mama Tambien

Insatiable. Such are many men in their early twenties. Supping voraciously at life. Consuming copious amounts of alcohol, drugs and indulging in hungry, desperate sex whenever and wherever possible. Great passionate sexual affairs are mixed with deep, seemingly forever friendships that are likely to end suddenly and permanently.

Life is lived to the fullest and great ribaldry seems free of consequence. Hangovers, guilt and recriminations are fleeting. Another party awaits, another jaunt to night clubs, another road trip, another evening of debauchery. Friends and lovers are plentiful. Let the good times roll....

Which they do until inevitably the responsibilities and cares of being an adult necessitate a bit of settling down. Those jobs or studies that had once been in the background -- often as occasional intellectual exercises or means to fund bacchus -- now take center stage. At last one lover becomes permanent, perhaps even as a spouse. Other friends are distanced either geographically or by emotional distance.

If we're smart and not an addict, we leave behind, or at least greatly temper, our reckless appetites, seeing at last the virtues of moderation. If not, the good times roll right over us. Desperate attempts to rekindle fires now dead retard our development often causing collateral damage to those close to us.

Many, many films, particularly of recent vintage, try to exploit the days of young male bawdiness. The resulting movies all too often present mere caricatures. These films are played for laughs (and not particularly sophisticated ones at that) using young women as props, far more cynically than we ever did. Only occasionally do these stories allow for character development or for any nuance. Characters are archetypes, events are set ups for gags. The road trip movies are the worst offenders of this genre.

Nine years ago the exception that makes it a rule came out of Mexico with director Alfonso Cuaron's Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001).

Two young men, Julio and Tenoch (played by the now familiar Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna) are freed of their girlfriends for the summer and end up conniving an older woman into joining them on a road trip to the perfect beach. Never mind that the beach is a total concoction of their combined imagination. Never mind that she is married to Tenoch's cousin. Never mind that neither has a car available. They are young, determined and have the financial means.

The journey begun, we as an audience have no idea where the trip will take them, or by extension us. Their passenger is Luisa (Maribel Verdu) whose ulterior motives for going are partially motivated by her husband's drunken confession of an affair.

Sex is much on everyone's mind. No film has dealt with the sex more openly and frankly, yet managed to maintain a level of eroticism in the bargain.

Drugs and booze are plentiful as are conversations about drugs, booze and sex. Indeed part of the fun is that when you're not "doing it", you're talking about it.

There is no overt attempt to ruminate or be philosophical, this is a frank look at hedonism and its immediate consequences.  Acts of indulgence abound but ones committed by people with a conscience. It is YTMT's honesty, its lack of pretense, that allows viewers to explore its deeper implications and issues.  In fact there is the frequent appearance of police and army troops and references to politics and Mexico's class system throughout the film. We in the audience can make what we will from these backdrops and goings on. The narrator does not direct us toward adopting a particular point of view. Cuaron trusts us to make our own interpretation.

Y Tu Mama Tambein is a film that does not resort to contrivances in either plot or character. We are invited to laugh, flinch, speculate and ruminate. Like many exceptional movies it allows us to take away from it what we will. There is much on the life and death of close camaraderie, the sort that is at once so strong and so fragile both because of and despite homoerotic tension.

Relationships are a never ending source of exploration for films and YTMT doesn't disappoint. It also -- unlike too many American movies -- is respectful of its female character. In America less is known of the Spanish actress Verdu than her two co stars. But she brings a wonderful balance to the randy duo with her own strong sexuality mixed with equally powerful intelligence and self awareness.

YTMT is a strong concoction in which sex and drugs are mere spices. The main course includes the joys of youthful discovery by those who dare live to the fullest. Its other fare includes pain, regret and another kind of discovery. The ageless exploration of self and the never ending lessons we can learn just be paying attention.

I wish they made more films like this.

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