A couple of years ago, director Alfonso Cuarón and his brother, the writer Carlos Cuarón, sat in Alfonso’s Greenwich Village backyard kicking around ideas for a screenplay (while Frank Zappa’s “Watermelon in Easter Hay” played in an endless loop). “We were trying to make a film about the search for identity,” says Alfonso. “We wanted to use three different voices: Two kids searching for their identity as adults, and a woman searching for her true nature. We wanted to put the story into a context, Mexico, which in our opinion is a teenager trying to become an adult.”
Working with a short story Carlos had written, the brothers came up with the script for Y Tu Mamá También, ostensibly a Porky’s en español. But despite its rock-and-roll road-movie trappings, the film’s treatment of class antagonism—not to mention its explicit sex scenes—set it apart from Hollywood teen flicks. Like last year’s Mexican hit, Amores Perros, Cuarón’s film reflects the trauma of that society’s globalization, albeit with double-edged humor. In one scene, the threesome discuss masturbation as they ride by a squad of military types harassing roadside vendors. But Cuarón wasn’t interested in straight polemic. “I find the anti-globalization concept very stupid,” says the director, who returned to Mexico for his first Spanish-language film in 10 years, after Hollywood productions like Great Expectations and The Little Princess. “The discussion shouldn’t be about let’s not have globalization; it should be about how to democratize globalization—how do you do it without killing cultures and ways of life?”
To convey Mexico’s harsh social reality, Cuarón borrowed a device from early Godard: the deadpan, faux-documentary narrator. “He doesn’t narrate, he’s just giving context,” says Cuarón. An even more noticeable Godard trick is the way the soundtrack music stops abruptly when the voice-over commences. “So you’re going to reveal where I stole the whole thing from. Well thank you very much,” Cuarón says with a laugh. “At first I had this smooth thing with the song playing and I said, no, stop the movie, I’m going to tell you a story. If you don’t like it, you can always leave the theater, but I’m sure that you’re kinky enough to see if there will be more sex, so you’ll stay.”
Cuarón recruited Amores Perros hunk Gael García Bernal, along with García’s childhood theater-brat friend Diego Luna and the elegantly tarty Spanish actress Maribel Verdú of Belle Epoque fame. “Maribel added this element of freedom of the body,” says García. “The Spanish are very good at that.” The film climaxes when a three-way encounter incites the boys to share an awkwardly impassioned kiss. “In Mexico, every time that scene played, there were always people screaming, ‘No! No!’ But it was completely improvised. Gael and Diego liked it,” Cuarón says, smirking.
“Improvised! I hate you, Cuarón!” says Luna, tossing a plastic cup at the director. “It was definitely harder than kissing Maribel,” he adds. “But when I read the screenplay, I realized that it had to happen.” In Mexico, the scene’s impact was somewhat like the surprise genitals in The Crying Game. “I can’t go out in the streets anymore with Gael, because people bother us,” says Luna. “But I think it was the adults that were more obsessed with the kiss than young people, and I’m proud of that because it means the youth is moving in the right direction.”
García and Luna, both in their early twenties, seem to be moving toward El Norte. García has played Che Guevara in the Showtime miniseries Fidel, and Luna landed a small part in Julie Taymor’s upcoming biopic of Frida Kahlo. Luna believes that Latin American and Spanish filmmakers should abandon nationalistic categories and promote films in Spanish to compete internationally with Hollywood. “But I don’t want to say I’m not interested in making movies in English,” says Luna. “I’d like to work with the Coen brothers.”
Mexico‘s highest grossing film ever, Y Tu Mamá También beat out American films that were supposed to dominate in the era of globalization. García and Luna, whose parents were part of the government-supported art theater, feel that despite harsh growing pains, Mexico is growing up with them. “There’s a great vibe in the air,” says García. “Young people want to exorcise their demons. We’re not depending on the government anymore. We want to face our destiny alone.”