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The New York-based Cuarón has directed two literary Hollywood moviesA Little Princess (1995) and the Gwyneth Paltrow-Ethan Hawke Great Expectations (1998). Neither provides much preparation for the confidently with-it Y Tu Mamá También (written by Cuarón's brother Carlos), a bildungsroman that doesn't unfold so much as noisily putt-putt along the dusty road from Mexico City to some Pacific paradise. Vastly popular on its home turf, as well as one of the critical hits of the last New York Film Festival, Y Tu Mamá También is the sort of soulful raunchfest I suspect Pauline Kael would have loved; the movie appears to be pure pop fun, albeit too impudent in its sexual slapstick (and lyrical in its sense of place) to have been made in present-day Hollywood.
Mamá establishes its adolescent energy with the first image of teenagers hastily coupling beneath a poster for the old December-May cult film Harold and Maude. Cuarón's heroes, the upper-class Tenoch (Diego Luna) and his less affluent, more insecure buddy Julio (Gael García Bernal, who played the younger brother in Alejandro González Iñárritu's not unrelated Amores Perros), see off their Italy-bound girlfriends at the airport. Left to their own devices, the two horny wise guys are wondering how they'll spend the rest of the summer when they meet Luisa (Maribel Verdú), Tenoch's exotic Spanish cousin by marriage, at a society wedding attended by the president of Mexico.
Back Against the Wall
Written and directed by James Fotopoulos
Anthology Film Archives
Through March 18
For reasons of her own, Luisa unexpectedly accepts the pair's clumsy invitation to party on the beach. She's a total fantasy babe, but the mercurial Verdú has an emotional gyroscope that allows her to keep repositioning herself as the film's resident existentialista sharp, sexy screwball deliberately bouncing between two frisky (and wildly competitive) pups. The Cuarón brothers can't conceal Luisa's function as the movie's deus ex machina, so they go with it: Her teasing inquiries into her companions' love lives make the car radiator overheat (her frank seduction technique does nearly as much for the movie), but Luisa's erotic agenda is more didactic than it is pleasure oriented. "Play with babies and you'll end up washing diapers," she tells herself afterward.
Y Tu Mamá También should be no one's idea of politically correct entertainment, but however wish-fulfilling she may be, Luisa never fails to tweak the boys' nascent machismo. Similarly, the movie's road trip naturally encompasses an ongoing observation of Mexican social relationsthe critique underscored by the measure of class uncertainty inherent in Julio's too eager clownish laugh. As if worried that his movie might be as glibly heedless as his male protagonists, Cuarón frequently, if briefly, applies the brake. The ongoing motormouthed jive and frequent manic outbursts are balanced by the sort of omniscient, contextualizing voice-over frequent in the early nouvelle vague or alternately submerged in the silent underwater shots that punctuate the narrative.
Last year's overlong, overwrought, and overpraised Amores Perros refried the cold beans of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. Funky and tender, Y Tu Mamá También is more thoughtful in redeeming a crass genre, evoking Jules and Jim as well as Beavis and Butt-head. This reproach to American youth flicks flatters the audience that made it the most popular movie in Mexican history (despite the local equivalent of an R rating). Shot by the gifted Emmanuel Lubezki, Y Tu Mamá También appears less gauzy and more spontaneous than Cuarón's period films. It has the charm of the original American road movies, feasting on the gorgeous, ramshackle landscape of the filmmaker's motherland.
"You're so lucky to live in Mexico," Luisa explains. "Look at itit breathes with life!" The same might almost be said of the film. Cuarón's compositions are so busy and his tone so jaunty that it's possible to miss the degree to which death shadows this comedy. The road is littered with fatal car accidents. Life is a transitory affair. The Cuarón brothers don't fail to prepare the alert viewer for Mamá's melancholy coda and the absolute finality of its sign-off.
The prolific young Chicago filmmaker James Fotopoulos has been providing the New York Underground Film Festival with a new feature nearly every year since the late '90s. Typically shot in drab black-and-white, Cinefotopoulos is characterized by its total conviction and obsessive structure, as well as a distinctive atmosphere of poverty-row geekery that bids at any moment to loose a torrent of perversion. It's a midnight movie aesthetic, if an antisocial one: Rather than rally the faithful, Fotopoulos prefers to wrap the audience in a dank cloak of solitude.
Back Against the Wall (2000), which follows this year's NYUFF with a week-long run at Anthology, is the strongest Fotopoulos I've seen. Initially predicated on the filmmaker's trademark repetitive routines, it concerns a grim slab of middle-aged beef jerky (Martin Shannon) holed up in a characterless apartment furnished mainly with cardboard boxes. Lying in bed, sourly awaiting the return of his young girlfriend (Debbie Mulcahy) from work, Shannon seems like a john in his own place.
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