The Mexican film “Y Tu Mama Tambien” follows the adventures of two young men and an older woman as they drive through rural Mexico. Moving through landscapes, they discover themselves and explore personal identities. The film has strong themes of identity and the search for identity becomes central to the plot of the narrative. However, while most of the film is very light hearted and deals mostly with the thoughts and feeling of its three protagonists, there is a darker and more somber tone underneath the basic plot of the film. The characters are confronted with the poorer rural peoples that they would have otherwise never encountered. The omniscient narrator gives the audience the thoughts and feelings of the film’s characters, but he also touches on very serious problems in Mexico. The contrast between the film’s characters and the rural slums that they travel through portrays a Mexico to which the characters are mostly ignorant. This contrast between the lighthearted conversation in this road movie and the seriousness of the problems facing the majority of Mexico gives the film its context. Although the undertones of danger, which everyone except the protagonists face, gives “Y Tu Mama Tambien” some emotional turbulence. This paper will explore these contrasts in tone and hopefully portray the importance of these vignettes about real Mexican life to the film.
The story here is mostly lighthearted and told in a very relaxed manner. However, the narration of the film often depicts the hardships that some minor characters have to face. While the main characters come from more privileged and urban backgrounds, the rural slums of Mexico and the people who inhabit them provide a backdrop to “Y Tu Mama Tambien” that portrays where the future of Mexico is headed and ultimately the lives of Luisa, Tenoch and Julio.
One of the first vignettes of the film occurs when Julio and Tenoch are stuck in a traffic jam. While they complain about the hold up and joke about their flatulence, the narrator informs the audience that the traffic has been caused by an accident involving a pedestrian. The man was killed trying to cross the busy street on his way to work. The narrator informs, “[He was] Marcelino Escutia, a bricklayer from Michoacán”. The accident is not important to the narrative of the film in anyway other than that it holds the main characters up in traffic. However, the film decides to inform the audience the real reason for the traffic rather than leaving it in the unreliable hands of Tenoch and Julio. Furthermore, the tone between these two moments is drastically changed. Tenoch and Julio are joking and extremely immature, but still highly amusing. When the narrator takes over and explains the real reason for the traffic, everything changes. The lighthearted joking of the two characters is pushed aside and a very sad and serious narrative takes over.
When the narrator switches back to the main story, the contrast between the lives on Tenoch and Julio and the rest of Mexico is all the more evident. After explaining, “He was picked up by the Green Cross and taken without I.D., to the coroner. It took four days for his body to be claimed,” the narrator switches back to the main plot of the film. It is revealed that Tenoch is a member of a very privileged family in Mexico. With only a slight pause and a new shot the narration moves from this very depressing vignette of a poor construction worker to the wealthy Iturbide family. This creates a clash in the narrative, which makes me question why I should even care about Tenoch and Julio’s narrative. They are naiveté and their narrative seems to lose me after each vignette. However, the pause after each one seems to give a moment of silence for each sad story. This allows both the audience and the characters in the film just enough time to think about what the narrator has just informed and to move past it.
While Tenoch and Julio are undeniably immature and inexperienced in the world, Luisa is not. She comes from a rough background and suffered in her time. It is explained that she never feels comfortable at the elite social functions of her husband’s friends and colleagues. She is different from them and her difference is noted in the questions they ask her and her answer to those questions. She explains, “I do not know about these things”. This maturity allows Luisa to educate and motivate Julio and Tenoch to become better people. Because of Luisa they learn to accept each other for what they are and find an identity that is more at peace with their own situations in life. Tenoch will ultimately learn to accept his less privileged friend and Julio learns not to resent the good fortune of Tenoch.
In another vignette later in the film the narrator portrays the maturity of Luisa further. After leaving a small village the narrator explains Luisa’s encounter with a woman named Mrs. Martina and the unfortunate fate of a little girl, also named Luisa. The explanation continues as the group passes the funeral march for the little girl. In this scene the somber tone of the narrator matches the shot. Instead of lighthearted humor preceding the vignette as was done previously, the car is complete silence as the drive past. The narrator explains, “Luisa though that even is absence people were still with us. She wondered how long she would remain alive in the memories of others once she stopped existing”. Mortality is a difficult concept for any person to try and deal with, but Luisa seems to have made peace with her condition. We know that she dies from cancer at the end of the film and the insight on Luisa here foreshadows her death. Tenoch and Julio, however, are not mentioned or even shown in this shot. Presumably they are not thinking about death. They are young and foolish and like all young people, they do not understand their own mortality and they do not want to think about death.
The insight of the narrator and the vignettes about the lives of both the characters and the people they encounter on their trip are poignant in “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” Each time the narrator takes over the film is affected by what he says and often the tone of the scene is drastically changed. In an interview with Alfonso Cuarón and a website called IndieWire, Cuarón explains, “Yeah, that was in the script. There was this idea that the camera was going to be seeking out little observations, almost in a documentary style. There’s an action going on here, but the camera has its own comments”(indieWIRE/03.11.02). The insights of the narrator move past simple observations on the characters and the documentary style he mentions gives the audience more than just simple character development. Instead the effect of the narrator portrays the real lives of the characters and the Mexico in which they interact.
“Not Another Teen Movie: Alfonso Cuarón on Truth, Style and “Y Tu Mamá También”” Interview by Anthony Kaufman. IndieWire. IndieWire, 9 Dec. 2009. Web. 27 Apr. 2012. .
Y Tu Mamá También. Dir. Alfonso Cuarón. Perf. Maribel Verdu, Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal. Anhelo Producciones, 2001. Netflix.com.