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Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

This is frustrating.

Chances are if you clicked on this link to read this story, you're already the kind of person who goes to see foreign films. You may have read other reviews of this film here on the site, like the excellent review that Mr. Beaks sent me yesterday, or you may have been over at Rotten Tomatoes, where the film is doing incredibly well so far. You may have seen the many articles written about Alfonso Cuaron in the last few weeks, like the excellent cover story in last week's LA WEEKLY. Chances are you're the exact audience who would go see this.

And, to be honest, I don't really want to talk to you.

I wish I could figure out how to get the word out to people who don't typically go see foreign films that Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN isn't your typical foreign film. Every year, there's a picture that comes out like AMELIE or CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON or GIRL ON THE BRIDGE that has the potential to cross over and really play to a broad audience, even if it is subtitled. Sometimes the films find that broad audience, and sometimes they don't. All the hard work and best intentions in the world can sometimes fail to connect for the plain and simple reason that audiences hate to feel like a film is going to be work. You almost have to trick them into seeing a foreign film sometimes. CROUCHING TIGER's trailers didn't really feature any dialogue, so there's nary a hint of the subtitles. Instead, the action and the epic scale of the thing was emphasized, as well as the romance, all of it communicated visually. With Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN, there's no kung-fu, so it's a little harder to sell. They have one secret weapon on their side, though, and if they're smart, they'll use it for all it's worth.

I'm referring, of course, to sex.

When I went to see the film last week at the LA Film School, right across the street from the about-to-reopen Cinerama Dome, I took my girlfriend with me. She's my favorite person to watch movies with now, even above my film geek buddies, because of how genuine her reactions are. According to her friends, she was never really into movies before we started going out, but she's proven to be an adventurous viewer. I love how open she is to different film experiences, and I love sharing movies with her in the hopes that she'll fall in love with them. She's willing to try just about anything, and she doesn't seem to carry a lot of baggage into movies. That's refreshing after wading through the nine bazillionth fanboy flame war about whether LOTR or STAR WARS "rulez more ass." Also, she's from Argentina, so I wanted to see how she reacted to what many people were describing to me as the most important Spanish-language movie since AMORES PERROS, which, by coincidence, was the first film we saw together. I didn't read a word about the movie before we went, though, so I really didn't know what to expect. A week later, she still talks about the film in a bit of a daze, surprised by what she saw.

Alfonso Cuaron lets you know right away what kind of film you're about to see. The very first scene of the film shows a young couple in bed, explicitly fucking, talking about a trip she's about to take. He begs her not to fuck anyone else on the trip, and she runs down a litany of all the various types of men she's not allowed to be with: Italians, Frenchmen, Germans. It's funny, just a little insecure, and surprisingly hot. The next scene shows another young couple trying to grind out a quickie before leaving for the airport to drop her off. Again, it's very frank, and there's something unforgettable about that sort of hurried coupling with parents in the house, something about the erotic charge that comes with being young and in danger of discovery that Cuaron captures with a surgical eye for detail.

The two couples end up together at the airport, where Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) are saying goodbye to their girlfriends, who are leaving to study abroad in Italy. The two boys are best friends, Charolastras, dedicated to smoking as much pot as possible, having as much sex as possible, and doing as little work as possible. It's the perfect lifestyle for Tenoch, whose father is a corrupt government official. For Julio, this is a last hiccup before the full weight of responsibility comes crashing down on him like a ton of bricks, and he knows it. Tenoch is going to be going to a university, no matter what, but for Julio, the future is a little less obviously bright. The two of them do their best to stave off any thoughts of the real world or the future, simply enjoying every moment they can. One of the things that Cuaron has done so well here (along with his brother Carlos, who co-wrote the script) is the way he has a third-person narrator provide counterpoint throughout the film in odd asides that seem to be unrelated to what we're watching. They provide a larger social context for us, filling in the portrait of modern Mexico that we're watching. It's incredibly effective, and it reminds you of just how possible it is to live in this world without ever being touched by it, especially if you have the cushion of money. One of the asides in particular stuck with me, a brief glimpse of a sheet-covered body on the side of a busy highway as we hear that the victim was a migrant worker who chose to cross this stretch of road every day rather than walk two miles out of his way in order to get to work. We take a long look at the man's body, but Julio and Tenoch don't pay a bit of attention. They're too busy playing the same infantile fart games that teenage boys the world over are amused by every day. For some reason, I was pierced by that juxtaposition of the crass and the tragic, something that Cuaron manages to pull off over and over as the film unfolds. There's another one near the end involving a fisherman and a local tour guide that just about brought me to tears. It's poignant, it's bitter, and there's nothing you can do about it. It is simply the way life works in Mexico, and no one is spared.

At a family wedding that is more political opportunity than anything, Tenoch is reunited with a cousin of his, a pompous windbag of a guy who basically mocks Tenoch's idea of becoming a writer one day. Julio and Tenoch meet the guy's wife, a beautiful Spanish woman named Luisa (Maribel Verdu), and they flirt shamelessly with her. They invite her to take a road trip with them, even though they don't have any plans for one, and they make up the name of a beach they are going to, describing Boca del Cielo (Heaven's Mouth) to her as a slice of paradise, untouched by touristas. There's something puppyish about the way they compete for her attention in their first encounter, and she's totally aware of the effect she seems to have on these two boys, both of them frantic to be men.

As the next few days drift by, we see how bored Tenoch and Julio are, and how their idle horniness can barely be contained. In the bound-to-be-infamous diving board scene, the two lay on diving boards over the deep end of the pool at the country club where Tenoch's father is an officer. Listing fantasy girls, they jerk off, racing to climax at the mention of Luisa and Salma Hayek, leading to an underwater shot of bobbing seed at it speckles the water's surface. The movie has an outrageous sense of humor at times, but this is no AMERICAN PIE or TOMCATS, and part of what distinguishes it is the exceptional work by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who also shot A LITTLE PRINCESS and GREAT EXPECTATIONS for Cuaron, as well as his first film LOVE IN THE TIME OF HYSTERIA (or SOLO CON TU PAREJA), which I still haven't seen. Their collaboration is one of the great ones in current cinema, and just looking at the stylistic differences between A LITTLE PRINCESS and this movie, you can see how much range these artists have, and how well they seem to work together. Lubezki's camerawork is almost documentary style in this film, and that's appropriate since Cuaron is so unflinchingly honest.

There's a scene here during this stretch of film that sort of sneaks by you, a brief moment involving Luisa, and it holds the key to the rest of the movie. It's done without words, and Cuaron does his best to distract you from what you're seeing. This one moment earns everything else that happens, though, and is crucial to our understanding of what happens after Luisa finds out that her husband has been sleeping with other women. She calls up Tenoch and asks if he and Julio are still going to visit Heaven's Mouth. At first, he doesn't remember what she's talking about, but he quickly recovers and says yes, excited when Luisa invites herself along. He and Julio quickly borrow a car so they can make the drive to where the beach could be, figuring they'll just find someplace they can call Heaven's Mouth, and until then, at least they'll be alone with Luisa. She's got her own agenda, though, and when they hit the road, all three of them find themselves confronting ideas and experiences that never occurred to them before.

For Luisa, this is a beginning. She's determined to experience some of the things she missed by getting married young and being responsible from a very early age. For Tenoch and Julio, this is an ending. They realize that the unspoken rules that bind them have been violated and broken over and over, and that neither of them has been a proper friend to the other. How much of this is because of their class separation and how much of this is just the natural competitive nature of boys is left to the viewer to determine, and it's beautifully acted by Luna and Bernal. They go through any number of shifts in attitude over the course of the piece, and they'll all perfectly underplayed. Each of them ends up having a sexual encounter with Luisa, and it drives them apart for a time before she is able to find a way to bridge the gap between the two of them. These sexual encounters are directed and performed with a frank casualness that left many in our theater gasping, shocked. One scene in particular caused an eruption of noise from the entire row in front of us, cries of horror and laughter and admiration for the sheer nerve of what they were watching. I found myself aroused not just by the sexual nature of the film, but also by the intimate nature of it. There's a candor to the entire movie that really pulled me into the screen. This felt like an experience, like a real journey. Part of that may have been the fact that Cuaron shot the film in order, allowing the actors to grow and react and feel the entire journey the way it would unfold. Part of it is that the script never does the easy thing.

Even at the end of the movie, when some big revelations are dropped regarding certain characters, there's a sense of inevitability that doesn't slip into predictability. Things unfold with the grace and odd synchronicity of life. What begins raunchy and rude ends in a quiet, awkward encounter in a diner, and by that moment, Cuaron has secured his place as an important voice in world cinema, finally delivering on all the promise his earlier film work has shown. As we left, I asked my girlfriend about the film, and she told me that the subtitles barely scratched the rich texture of the dialogue between the characters. I'd already decided to learn more Spanish so I am able to speak to her in her native tongue at times, but now I have even more incentive. I'm sure I'll be seeing this film again in the future, and if there's more pleasure to be wrung from this dense, smart, achingly lovely look at life, love, and the ways we protect our hearts as we become adults, then I look forward to it.

The film opens in New York and Los Angeles today, and should be rolling out across the country in the weeks and months ahead. It is worth keeping your eye out for. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • March 15, 2002, 12:49 p.m. CST

    Can't wait to see it

    by upham

    I've been reading a lot about this, and can't wait to see it. Just for the record...LOTR "rulez more ass." JK, take care.

  • March 15, 2002, 1:07 p.m. CST

    Subtitles . . . . . .

    by gurglesnap

    First of all, I'm missing this at SXSW this week. There's SO much going on, I couldn't fit it into my schedule. . . . A quasi-related note about subtitles: I really wish I spoke more languages. What am I missing with a subtitled Das Boot? Or Seven Samurai? Or any subtitled film? (And I'm not such a nerd that I'd only like to learn more languages so I can watch Dragonball Z in its original tongue. Travel when fluent is much much much better than travel with a phrasebook. . . .) I have often heard the saying, "When you learn another language, you gain another soul." I wonder how accurate the sprite of that phrase is?

  • March 15, 2002, 1:10 p.m. CST


    by JohnTravisRules

    The FIRST posters are always the first to go... heh heh. Third? Oh yeah, Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN, bitch!

  • March 15, 2002, 1:17 p.m. CST

    Almodovar's films have made money in the U.S. so...

    by Fatal Discharge

    ...from the description of this one it has the same naughty sexy spirit, and I don't see why this can't do as well. It's funny though that it was the biggest hit of last year in Mexico and has a chance to break out in America yet it wasn't submitted for the Academy Awards which could have gotten it more publicity. I guess when you start a film with a couple fucking it isn't "respectable" enough.

  • March 15, 2002, 1:24 p.m. CST

    Playing on LaBrea for awhile, hasn't it?

    by JoeLove

    At the Cineplex Odeon theater at Melrose? Well, I've got this date planned with my new gal, and I think it might involve this movie. From what everyone's saying, this one is hot, hot, hot. No personas nunca son mas caliente en las picturas que los latinos, no? Por ejemplo, Il Postino (que romantica!) o Belle Epoque (cuatro hermanas para solo UN HOMBRE!). Very hot indeed! Decent review, but one bit of advice, Morifarty: be careful, you're starting to sound like Harry, relating the film you're reviewing in too many ways to other films. You're a better writer than that, buddy.

  • March 15, 2002, 2:21 p.m. CST

    Here's what's sad...

    by JoeLove

    This review's on the left column, which I've always taken to mean that it's somewhat important, and everybody who visits AICN needs to read it. And look, only 4-5 posts. It really lays bare the reality of who's reading AICN. This is a completely great review of a movie EVERYONE should see, and yet no one cares to weigh in. Why? Because it's foreign? Because there's no kung-fu or laser beams?

  • March 15, 2002, 2:22 p.m. CST

    I'm aroused just reading this damn review

    by jennababe

    I want to see it NOW!

  • March 15, 2002, 2:37 p.m. CST

    Hey, Jennababe

    by JoeLove

    You're a lady, right? Do real and passionate love scenes lend themselves to a good rockin time in bed for you? I've always thought so, after watching Belle Epoque, then gettin' after my lady? Ooo, mommy got a good whoopin' that night, baby.

  • March 15, 2002, 3:21 p.m. CST

    Out on Video, and overrated.

    by Schlongzilla

    Just go rent it on video. It's been out for awhile in Mexico, so it already came out on video. Just go to any video store in a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood and it should be there with subtitles, That's how I saw it. Anyways. It's a good movie, but it's not that great. I've seen this plot done way better on Red Shoe Diaries. But because that's considered soft core porn nobody ever says it's good. The plot is the average bored housewife young stallions road trip screw fest. As seen in Red Shoe diaries and (insert SHOWTIME soft core porn here). It's a good film, but let's not get carried away by calling it great. You guys give out "great" reviews like if they were Halloween candy. In closing this director is no Zalman King. VIVA ZALMAN KING!!!!!!!!!

  • March 15, 2002, 3:22 p.m. CST

    Star Wars rules ASS!!

    by Eat_Your_Peas

    This is AICN, after all...///I am unsure of seeing this movie. I am intrigued by the apparent depth of characters and the nuanced changes it sounds like they go through. A well thought out character piece is not very common in American cinema these days, unless you count Freddy Got Fingered. I can't believe I'm going to say this, but the fact that there is so much sex in this movie might be distracting. Now I like sex and nudity as much as the next guy, but if it is a serious movie, I don't really want to see tons of that. Maybe its a context issue. Maybe I'm so used to American movies that trivialize sex or use it to support an otherwise crappy movie that I can't understand how it can be used as a character development piece....

  • March 15, 2002, 3:31 p.m. CST

    This is playing my local theatre...oddly, they have it listed as

    by minderbinder

    Once word gets out, should be popular with the local teenyboppers...

  • March 15, 2002, 9:12 p.m. CST

    sex sex and more sex

    by STRIDER355

    Poopie pants? Ha! I thought I was the only one who said that! Rock on, my friend! And I've posted on every TB about this movie. I haven't looked forward to a movie like this since LOTR. I just hope they don't, as someone else put it, TRIVIALIZE the sex. Sex isn't just wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am. It comes with a lot of complex emotions and feelings. That's something almost no film has ever touched on. It's always done in a JAMES BOND fashion. Which certainly isn't real life, unless you're a Hollywood hooker. I hope this film is the first to be a true treatise, if you will, on sex and the sexual nature of all us human beings.

  • March 16, 2002, 8:12 a.m. CST

    Thanks Moriarty

    by DannyOcean01

    Reading that review sent a tingle through my spine. Not because of the explicitness of the film but simply because this is a film that seems to have some kind of emotional punch that is lacking in the majority of films nowadays. I just hope that the sex doesn't become the focal point because when it comes to England we'll get all the tank top wearing, perrier and lime drinking, stay at home with mummy, critics up in arms about it. So thanks Moriarty and the other reviewers for bringing this to my attention.

  • March 16, 2002, 9:17 a.m. CST

    Thanks Moriarty...for not much

    by Mr_Nobody

    except getting my bloody hopes up for seeing this movie which i'll have to wait a month more for it to break out into wider release. great review, its always great to see personal emotions that reviewers get - lends a little more credence to the actual review. i actually managed to see the first 10 minutes of this so i got to see the first 2 sexual romps and the really spine tingling shot of the dead construction worker. why do i do this to myself? anyway, really can't wait to see this - especially for some actually tender sex scenes, different from the tripe we get from hollywood ;-) ...peace

  • March 16, 2002, 2:53 p.m. CST

    Yes, but WHY should "everyone" see it? WHY is it important?

    by Drak_Tanner

    Is it normal for Mexican kids to have jack-off contests? What the fuck is wrong with these kids anyway? I've read some great reviews of this movie, but none of them have given me any reason why I'd want to go see it. People said the same thing about 'All About My Mother', and I wasn't impressed by it. Why is it that all the critically-acclaimed Spanish-speaking films are about deviant sexual practices?

  • March 16, 2002, 4:10 p.m. CST

    I saw this movie last night and cannot get it out of my head. It

    by The_Lion

    I like the Beavis and Butthead interaction between the two guys. Great stuff.

  • March 16, 2002, 6:45 p.m. CST


    by TomVee

    Sounds watchable for the sex scenes. For those TalkBackers who are not U.S. citizens: Foreign films don't play particularly well with the American moviegoer, for fairly obvious reasons. Not the least of which is either bad dubbing or distracting, hard-to-read subtitles. There's also a sensibility at work that is...foreign to Americans. Not trying to be funny, just honest. The French seem to do the best job, amazingly enough.

  • March 16, 2002, 8:43 p.m. CST

    LOTR rulz mo ass!

    by ArchDiver

    but it's slender Elvish and tiny Hobbit ones for the most part, so that doesn't really weigh that much...AD out

  • March 16, 2002, 9:48 p.m. CST

    since I haven't been laid in a long time I have zero interes

    by Tall_Boy

    and I would hope that I am speaking frankly for many geeks on here. (but when I DID have a girlfriend, we went to see Eyes Wide Shut together hoping it would add a little freak on to it. instead we just walked creeped out. don't really know what the point of that story was, but hey...)

  • March 16, 2002, 11:41 p.m. CST

    Good to see ...

    by HallowedBThyName

    Cuaron with a hit on his hands. Had the misfortune of opening Little Princess at the same time as Babe. Equally good films. Shoulda gotten a talking pig in there somehow.

  • March 18, 2002, 6 p.m. CST

    Learn Spanish, Drew, and quickly.

    by Sabrina

    Your girlfriend is 100% correct; there are some things in this film that are untranslatable (and really, whoever did the translation went for the most vulgar shorthand possible) and the whole thing is much deeper and indelible if you know the language and something of Mexican culture and outlook, as well as the differences between Mexican and Spanish culture, which is another part of the subtext of this remarkable film. Maribel's vernacular is markedly different from that of Tenoch and Julio, in keeping with that of a young middle-middle class Spanish woman who married up when she came to Mexico. Nonetheless, her remark that she fell in love with her husband's "cute little Mexican accent" is actually a bit of a dig. This only scratches the surface of the riches lost in the English translation -- one of the funniest things is the boys' compulsive use of the words "hue" (ox), "chingon" (alternately, fucker or fuckhead), "cabron" (bastard), "pendejo" (alternately moron or asshole) and "mamon" (which means literally "tit-sucker" but here probably means cocksucker). In their own way, they're as verbally unimaginative as any American mallrats. At any rate, great review -- hope it makes people take notice of Cuaron's best film to date.

  • Very good film. I was initially sceptical the filmmakers were prepared to move beyond the sort of teenage antics common to american imbecile cinema, and was prepared for just another machisom reverie, but with a few twists and turns in the plot, I was handsomely rewarded in the end.

  • March 19, 2002, 8:50 p.m. CST

    by DuckStar

    This review reminded me why I come to this site, and almost, almost washed the horrid taste of Harry's review of Blade 2 from my mouth or even wore the taste of the infantile talkbackers that seem to think calling Harry names is a good way to spend some time. The thing that Moriarty accomplishes in his reviews is that he manages to write non-mainstream (meaning non-boring) critiques, while still maintaing a prose that is witty but not juvenile. I had seen the excellent trailer to this film and heard some good buzz about it before I read this review, but now I want to see it even more. That's what this site is at its best. To see what it is at its worst one has to look no further than the talkback section and read posts from people who think making hateful and stupid personal attacks on the guy who runs this site (who they all undoubtably secretly worship)is funny or worse yet intersting. This review was intersting, thank God.

  • March 21, 2002, 6:31 p.m. CST


    by josedelo

    If your girlfriend is from Argentina, she must be a beauty and intelligent too, so, she should consider taking you to see great argentinean films such as: WILD HORSES, A PLACE IN THE WORLD, MARTIN H, NINE QUEENS, SON OF THE BRIDE ( 2001 ACADEMY AWARD NOMINEE ). HAVE YOU SEEN ANY OF THEM?? THOUGH I LOVED 'Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN...',