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With few exceptions, films made in the United States have a stylized way of portraying sex, when they do. Even where swelling cellos or hot jazz don't accompany dimly lit shots of good-looking actors en flagrante delicto, sex in movies is almost always a sort of super-human act. Most of the time sex is portrayed as being incredibly great with unparalleled tenderness, earth-shaking passion and total, uncompromising grace. There's never an awkward moment with birth control techniques, bed clothes or misdirected gestures. Nobody's limb ever gets pinched or falls asleep. Energy, attention, and intent neither flag nor waiver. Porn sex is even more extreme in these regards, but that sex is so stylized that few entertain the illusion that porn sex equals real-life sex. In teen comedies, where sex is supposed to be awkward and funny, it is equally superhuman in it's discomfort, ineptitude, and goofiness. Sex in mainstream movies, I think, gives a lot of people an unrealistic model of what human intimacy is supposed to look and feel like.
Not so Y Tu Mama Tambien, a coming/coming-of-age story that is firmly rooted in a realistic view of life. Although the narrative does feel contrived in places, the intent of the contrivances is to keep the characters unromantic and believable. That real life contains sadness, loneliness, anger, illness, dispossession and awkwardness is accepted in the world of this film, and the sex scenes are astonishingly human in all regards. And as such they are extremely hot in a very visceral way.
The film opens as two 17-year-old Mexican boys, Tenoch (Gael García Bernal) and Julio (Diego Luna) have farewell sex with their girlfriends before the girls take off on a trip to Italy. Though the sex is immature, fumbling and quick, the words are passionate. Tenoch gets his girlfriend to promise that she won't fool around with any Italian men. But as soon as the girlfriends leave town, the two rogues are on the make, putting their obvious moves on Tenoch's cousin's girlfriend, the older, sexy Luisa (Maribel Verdú).
They invite her on a road trip to "Heaven's Beach," a fictional destination, and they are incredibly surprised when she agrees to go with them. The journey is the central motif of the film, and it allows the characters to grow and change as they explore the dynamics of their trio. Luisa is aware of Julio and Tenoch's juvenile attempts to seduce her, and she turns the situation around by seducing them while giving them some education about women and life in general. She has an agenda and she uses her sexual and spiritual maturity to transform the journey into her own arrival at something new.
The journey changes all three characters. Both of the boys come to grapple much more deeply with their sexual identities, and their identities as men (as opposed to boys). The journey both strengthens and dissipates their friendship. Luisa, meanwhile, has her own issues to sort out on this trip. It's not a mid-life crisis she's having, but something much deeper, it turns out.
Narrated by an omniscient voice that knows not only the secret thoughts and habits of all character but also their pasts and futures, the film keeps the viewer at a safe distance from the turbulent sexuality and conflict of the characters. If the omniscient voice were not there to tell us the foibles and fates of these people, we might sink hopelessly into the morass of ego on the screen. Such strong, distinct characterizations seem to require a distancing in order to convey their learning to the viewer. However, there is no moralizing here, either.
Perhaps it is the narrative distance that also allows such humanity to be visible. Sex is sordid and earthly because we do not have to identify with these characters as fantasy versions of ourselves. The film can explore other issues like social class and gender differentiation, and we can look at these phenomena as though studying them and learning from them. We don't get deluged in our feelings for these characters; nor are we permitted to feel nothing for them, for they are painted so distinctly that to some extent we must care and wish the best for them once the trip is over.
All of this is to say that the film is really fantastic, a delightful and deep picaresque and character study that goes unexpected places, with a lot of hot sex included.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.