Mexican cinema was barely emerging from decades of obscurity when Alfonso Cuarón’s “Y Tu Mamá También”, a journey of self-discovery and study of a changing country, was released in 2001, instantly becoming a reference.
The film, structured as a road trip from Mexico City to an Oaxacan beach paradise, revolves around a love triangle involving upper-class teenager Tenoch (Diego Luna), his more humble best friend, Julio (Gael García Bernal), and a visiting Spanish, Luisa (Maribel Verdú). She challenges nascent notions of male virility in the context of a society that is enjoying democracy for the first time after seven decades under the rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI.
The film, which broke box office records in Mexico before making its debut at the Venice Film Festival in August, represented a return for the director not only to Mexico after a stint in Hollywood but also to his passion. for cinema. And she saw the birth of the cinematographic naturalistic grammar of the director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki. But the film’s most significant impact lies in the sexual openness it portrays, which earned it the most restrictive rating from the Mexican government; his tacit questioning of traditional masculinity in a culture where machismo is rooted; and his incisive treatment of class problems in a nation of painful inequalities.
I chatted with distant stars and filmmakers, including Carlos Cuarón, the director’s brother, who co-wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay, about their memories of filming the film, the changes it made to their careers. and the welcome to Mexico at the time, when the carnal meeting between the two boys was controversial. These are edited excerpts from those conversations.
Where were you in your career when “Y Tu Mamá También” arrived? Was this a turning point?
ALFONSO CUARÓN: At that time, I had let the industry seduce me and that’s where my confusion started because I had forgotten the cinema. It’s a myth that the industry corrupts you, you corrupt yourself. Make my first movie in Hollywood, “A Little Princess” , was wonderful, but then I made another movie, “Great Expectations” , which I never understood. I started to watch a lot of movies that I had liked. That’s when I called my brother and said, ‘let’s write a movie’.
CARLOS CUARÓN: “Y Tu Mamá También” was a conceptual idea that Alfonso and I had even before his first film, “Sólo con tu pareja”. The film is inspired by these trips that we take in adolescence. What neither my brother nor I did was do that with a beautiful Spanish girl. [Laughs] We worked on it for about 10 years while we were apart. But then a really nice Alfonso project in the US fell apart and here in Mexico what was going to be my first feature also fell apart. Alfonso lived in New York and he called me. “How about doing ‘Y Tu Mamá También’?” I flew to New York using his frequent flyer miles and we got to work. [Laughs]
DIEGO LUNA: It was the first time that I realized [I] could have a reach that I never imagined possible. I grew up primarily in theater in Mexico and thinking primarily in the context of my community there. But “Y Tu Mamá” was like a wake-up call for me. What struck me the most was the distance that developed between my family, my friends and me after this film. I started working in other countries, spending long periods away from home to the point of wondering where my home really was. It can be exciting, but it was also scary because you feel lost, like you don’t belong.
GAEL GARCÍA BERNAL: When I did “Amours Perros” [his first movie, in 2000] I discovered this universe without knowing anything about the madness of cinema. With “Y Tu Mamá También” Alfonso was at a point in his life where he was very open to including us, the actors throughout the process, for over a year. We learned the basics of cinema! What I’ve taken with me in every movie I make is that as an important requirement there should be a feeling of brotherhood like the one we had then.
MARIBEL VERDÚ: I have been working since the age of 13, so I would still have continued to work in Latin America and in my country, but thanks to “Y Tu Mamá También” I made myself known abroad. It is not only that I have gained international recognition for any film, but this prestigious and important film. I got to know Mexico thanks to [Alfonso] and eventually made other films with Mexican directors.
What do you think are the reasons for the success of “Y Tu Mamá También”?
ALFONSO CUARÓN: Part of it is obvious. Putting teens in situations that include sex will always be appealing to a certain audience. But I hope “Y Tu Mamá También” has transcended that, because we have decided not to be “American Pie”. We wanted the sex scenes to convey these characters and the social elements that we were playing with, like class and the conceptions of masculinity that these characters have.
CARLOS CUARÓN: This portrait of adolescence with its failures and its virtues, the narrator who does not tell but contextualizes things and helped us to avoid the explanatory scenes, the enormous alchemy between Diego and Gaël and the counterpoint that Maribel provided were some – one of the many factors. None of us who did it thought it would be so successful. When we wrote the script, we didn’t know who would dare to do it.
MOON : It’s a great movie, sure, but not all great movies come at the right time. “Y Tu Mamá También” was very lucky. He found an audience that needed a trip like the one the film offers. The film is about fundamental relationships and it is very easy to reflect in them. It is also a film that portrays a Mexico that previously seemed hidden. The way he portrayed economic inequality and class conflict was very painful for some at the time. I remember a lot of people complaining, “Why do you describe Mexico that way? But at the same time, it portrays the beauty the country has to offer.
GARCÍA BERNAL: This caused a schism among the Mexican public. A lot of people connected positively to the film, but it angered the pearl pickers. [Laughs] Some audiences projected some unease about sexual openness or the film’s ambiguous approach to gay themes. All of this created a dialogue. Outside of Mexico, what has transcended is the desire to live that this film instills in you. When you step out of the theater, you want to go to the beach and have a crazy adventure.
VERD: I believe it is authenticity. It’s a film that looks like a documentary. It sounds like something improvised, but there is so much work behind it. The [were] repetitions so that everything was very tight, but to make it seem like everything was happening right in front of us. It’s so magical and the audience felt it too.
We are currently taking stock of masculinity. At the time, were you thinking about what the relationship between these two young men said on the subject?
ALFONSO CUARÓN: I talked about it a lot with Guillermo del Toro, with Carlos and Chivo [Emmanuel Lubezki]. It would be pretentious to say that the discussions were about masculinity, because those conversations don’t happen anymore, but without using that language we were trying to explore that. At some point, it becomes more obvious. There is a moment when Luisa tells them, “The only thing you want is to have sex together.”
CARLOS CUARÓN: I remember very well that at the premiere in Mexico, people cursed and hissed when Diego and Gaël kissed. During the premiere, a gay friend, a theater and film director, said: “Thank you for showing clearly the image of the Mexican macho for the first time.” I asked him what that picture was and he said, “Julio and Tenoch kissing.
MOON : We always said we were having a love affair between the two men. In the debates about the ending, people wanted us to mark what that meant. The film suggests things but leaves that decision to the public. That’s what good movies do. They ask questions. They don’t give answers.
GARCÍA BERNAL: The 2000s were a turning point. Young people back then, myself included, started to see sex very differently, and the gender dividing lines started to disappear, as masculinity was and is in the midst of a crisis. I am convinced that this film could not have been made in the United States. In Mexico, we have more freedom of expression in the cinema because we can organize things more independently.
VERD: In this respect, the film was ahead of its time. It shows things that no one was doing at the time. No one dared.
In the final scene, the narrator tells us that Tenoch and Julio never saw each other again. Do you trust the narrator or do you think they reconnected?
MOON : I don’t believe the narrator. I think they saw each other somehow. It’s hard to think they didn’t. Curiosity probably brought them together. This is what I want to believe because in life nothing is final.
ALFONSO CUARÓN: I questioned that. At one point Carlos and I talked about the possibility of making a movie on [them] but now in my forties. Unfortunately, I think it would be too sad. I have a slightly pessimistic outlook on life. Tenoch likely followed in his father’s footsteps, not as a politician but as a banker. And I don’t think Julio had a good relationship with women. But they both have great spirits and it is possible that they will reconnect and what unites them are the things that are missing in their lives. Maybe talking about the past acts as a catalyst for the second part of their life. It’s a nice way to see it. Maybe Diego is right.
CARLOS CUARÓN: If the narrator says so, then they never saw each other again. If they [did] it was probably by accident. I truly believe that life has separated them. I don’t think they ever saw each other again not because they hated each other, but because they loved each other too much.
GARCÍA BERNAL: I’m sure they saw each other again, but the narrator says what their parents would like to say. Now that we’re over 40, we should probably have a reunion between Julio and Tenoch.
VERD: They never saw each other again. I am convinced. Their relationship was not real. You see it, for example, when one walks into the other’s house and he lifts the toilet seat with his foot so as not to touch it. They came from different backgrounds. They took a trip with this Spanish woman and they enjoyed it as part of sexual arousal. She united them for this moment, then she disappeared, and they disappeared from each other’s lives. And this is it.