Friday, April 29, 2011

The Great Alphabet of Films—Y is For

Yojimbo or Y Tu Mamá También

      I'm going to be a little playful now that the blogging challenge finish line is only inches away. All you need to know is that the italicized titles are actual films (that I didn't pick), and the following transcript is a fictional back-and-forth between two unnamed characters. Let's begin, shall we?  

"Your Highness," Mr. Nameless said.
"No, I won't address you with such cordial grace. It's The Year of Living Dangerously and I'm just a Youth in Revolt. There's no Yankee Doodle Dandy in 2011, which is to say, no one's gonna be mistaken for James Cagney. If you want Yesterday's version of raucous, vulgar entertainment, and that oh-so wonderful slice of Americana, you'll have to tune into 2004's Young, Beautiful and Screwed Up...what we know today as, Jersey Shore," Mr. Anonymous replied.
"You Must Be Joking?"
"What, You Talkin' to Me?"
"Well you're the only one here. You Don't Know Jack."
"You're Telling Me, huh? Let me say this to you, for your situation: You've Got Mail. It goes somethin' like: You'll Never Get Rich unless...well, some Ludacris rapper says it better than I."
"Act a Fool." 
 "Yep. Sadly sonny boy, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow just don't ring true with Ye Olden Days."
"Can I have some of Your Alcohol?"
"You're a Big Boy Now...sure."
      Those hoping for Young Frankenstein, You're Out of Luck. You Know My Name, so there are no excuses for improperly addressing your hate mail. All I ask, no Yo Momma jokes because You, Me and Dupree say so. You Can Count On Me though, for picking a film that You, I love. You Came Along for the review and you got You So Crazy instead. The gimmick stops here, feel free to rejoice—Yes Man! You'll Find Out my pick after the jump. 
      Runner-Up: Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (the Master is already represented at "S" for Seven Samurai).

      Julio (Gael García Bernal) and his privileged friend Tenoch (Diego Luna) are plotting a summer full of debauchery, drugs, and promiscuity. Why not? Their girlfriends just abandoned them for their own personal summer vacation. Before their bold journey gets underway, the two friends attend an extravagant family wedding. While enjoying the lavish celebration, they meet Luisa (Maribel Verdú), the enchanting older wife of Tenoch's cousin. Consistent with their sort of unabashed, bohemian spirit, the two friends try to convince Luisa to join them on their road trip to Boca del Cielo, a beach paradise that doesn't actually exist. To their utter astonishment, Luisa, looking to break away from her life, agrees to their proposition. Only a few days transpire on their trip before tension really builds to an unsustainable height. Julio and Tenoch are both witting beneficiaries to Luisa's seductive charms—she has sex with the two of 'em—only they take it as a deliberate breach of friendship. Now, the two young excursionists are actively vying for her affection. Ultimately, their trip to, what is a completely fabricated locale, becomes a fledgling search for self-discovery, beset by boiling hostilities, bitter jealousies, and bearish revelations about the nature of friendship, sexuality and one's place in this contradictory world.

      Mexican-born, New York-based filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón is an adept force of style and substance. His frank and refreshingly realistic look at sex and teenage innocence is a testament, not only to his bravado and bold spirit, but his supreme competency—he effects raw emotion and genuine intrigue from his three primary performers. He weaves a story that speaks to the shock of the MPAA's infantile characterization of sexuality, exposes the abundance and abjection of dual Mexicos, and addresses the potency of discovery. This heralded Mexican box-office smash hit sparked some controversy for its blunt depiction of drug use and sexual exploration, but it also captured an elusive ideal of cinema; teaching us that movies can be fresh, unadulterated, and undaunted in subject matter. The result of Cuarón's uncurbed examination is an exhilarating experience—not purely a sexual shock for the senses, but the seeming shock of witnessing an artist working without excess burdens. After an enormously successful run in Mexico, Y Tu Mamá También was screened to considerable acclaim at the 2001 Venice, Toronto and New York Film Festivals.
      Cuarón's coming of age tale is an unabashed manifestation of teenage sexuality, galvanized by the sensualistic teachings and advancements of an older woman. Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna are the two stars responsible for the candid depiction, but the most intricate and impressive performance comes from Maribel Verdú. Her beautifully textured portrayal anchors Cuarón's film. She is the vivacious force that arouses the two sensuous teenagers, as she teases, interrogates, examines and lectures them. In a sense she inhabits the conventional, foxy older woman role, but infuses her character with so much more depth; wiser, more sophisticated, more jubilant, but also dejected. The young, up-and-coming duo of Bernal and Luna give electrifying performances as well, turning Cuarón's study into a riveting acting tour de force. Luna is a very likeable and dynamic protagonist, which allows one to really appreciate the nuances of his self-discovery. And Bernal is every bit his equal, providing a wealth of genuine emotion and subtle exploration.

      Cuarón places these teenage boys in teenage situations: toking marijuana, masturbating, feasting one's eyes on an older woman and inviting mischief. They're primal forces who haven't quite acquiesced to the propriety of adulthood or casual corruption that surrounds them. In essence, they are willful subjugates of their own carnal, hormone-fueled lifestyle. Their perforated innocence represents the possibilities of life, specifically, in the context of a downtrodden, urban decadence, which Cuarón paints as a dichotomy: the harsh realities of an impoverished Mexico and the peaceful optimism of an unspoiled beach paradise. Cuarón reminded us that the unpolluted innocence of the beach is forever scarred by the pervasive forces of capitalism (due to construction of a hotel). 
      A Little Princess was Cuarón's excellent debut, Great Expectations was his solid sophomore effort, but Y Tu Mamá También was his best film. Children of Men was terrific, and as the fans of the Harry Potter franchise will tell you (me included), The Prisoner of Azkaban was the best cinematic entry of the series (we'll see what happens with the grand finale this summer). Critics and moviegoers have bestowed high praise on Alfonso Cuarón, and for those who witnessed the brilliance of YTMT ten years ago, this adulation comes as no surprise. He shared an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay with co-writer and Brother Carlos Cuarón. Children of Men received wide critical claim including three Oscar nominations, proving to even the most defamatory of detractors, he's no one-hit wonder. Y Tu Mamá También is laced with raucous humor, genuine character development, and stirring sexuality. It is, quite frankly, a silly, sensual, and sympathetic study of three roaming spirits, some young, some old, but equally aged in provocation.

*The wonderful trailer for Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También


  1. Oh how I loved this film. It was a lush, visceral sensuous feast for the mind. Bernal and Luna are extraordinary, this is where I first encountered them both. But, you are so right about Maribel. She takes the sexy older woman and gives her layers of complexity that really fuel the story.

    I so agree with your assessment of the MPAA's rating system. It is narrow and rigid and so many great films are not made or made as less because of it. I wanted to stand out in front of the theater after I saw this and cheer Cuaron.

    Bravo on your playful dialogue up there. You have an intelligent, comedic wit.

  2. he he this was quite creative Matty :)
    For some reason I've never liked Spanish films, the only thing I liked from Cuaron was THE LITTLE PRINCESS, but I'm looking forward to his GRAVITY sf flick.
    I prefer Alfonso Arau and Lasse Hallstrom when it comes to European directors.

  3. @ Melissa

    Yep, you pretty much nailed it. Cuaron elevates the often bland coming of age drama by juxtaposing a story of unadulterated sexuality and identity with a country's economic and social divisions. It's wonderful, and as you say, Bravo brave Cuaron.

    The MPAA is much too stringent and a lot of films on the cusp of edginess are overlooked to a great number of potential moviegoers. The treatment of Cuaron's film was a chief example of their stubborn mindset.

    Ha, thanks. I figured I'd mix it up a bit.

    @ Dezmond

    Thank you very much, Sir!

    Lasse Hallstrom is a nice choice. He is quite a prolific director, and What's Eating Gilbert Grape immediately comes to mind as one of his more interesting films.

  4. Personally I like Yojimbo (and Children of Men) better, but it makes perfect sense to highlight Cuarón since you've already covered Kurasawa. A solid choice.

    Oh, and great job with the dialogue up front. Yowza.

  5. Two thumbs up for "Y Tu Mamá También"!! And I agree 100% - it's Curaon's BEST film to date, and also one of my all time favorites. A modern masterpiece, IMO. I'm truly happy with this choice of yours, Matty :) You have a great taste in films, dude :)

  6. @ Nate

    I hear ya. I was really debating the inclusion of Yojimbo, but I also wanted to be fair to Cuaron. I like to have a diversity of directors on display. Thanks.

    Haha, I'm glad you dug it!

    @ Nebular

    Yeahhh, that's what I'm saying! I appreciate the "great taste in films" comment. It's encouraging to know that I'm not highlighting the wrong films.


  7. Well, 25 days in, and you zap me on Y - the film I haven't seen. D'oh!

  8. I had to get one by you, lol. Since you've seen all my other selections (and enjoyed them), I definitely think you should give Cuarón's film a look.