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Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2002

Finding a real lust for life

Y tu mama tambien

Rating: * * * * 1/2
Japanese title: Tengoku no kuchi, owari no rakuen
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Running time: 105 minutes
Language: Spanish
Opens Aug. 10 at Ebisu Garden Cinema

One of the major disadvantages of adulthood is that we tend to forget what it was like as a teenager. Remember those crazed, dazed and embarrassing moments? No? That's because you swore (back then) to forget them -- and promptly did.

Was that so smart? Shouldn't we have hung on to those moments, counted on them to weather us through the long, long years of hereafter that are sadly devoid of craziness? This is not to say that the teen years are beautiful and worthy of cherishing, often just the opposite. But, oh! The intermittent flashes of glory amid the muck and gore! Their brilliance sometimes reaches us like stars shining elusively on the landscape of the mind from millions of light-years away. Such is the effect of "Y tu mama tambien (And Your Mother Too)," a movie that draws out awful, sniveling poetry from even case-hardened, chain-smoking cynics such as this reviewer.

Mexico's Alfonso Cuaron ("Love in the Time of Hysteria," "Great Expectations") took time off from his New York filmmaking career, returned to his homeland and made a sizzling summertime road movie. By sizzling, I mean that the people who hit the road in this case (two 18-year-old boys and an attractive, 30ish woman) have very little on their minds except plain, undiluted sex. They talk about it endlessly, flirt outrageously and finally engage in two disappointing little trysts (somehow real sex rarely seems to live up to conversational sex). They finally achieve Nirvana in a little beach bungalow. All summertime road movies should be this way. In fact, why stop at movies?

Having said this, though, "Y tu mama" suffers a bit from pheromonal overkill -- however handsome the two boys are, their state of lust delirium can start to pall, especially since they're still at an age when sex means dirty talk, macho struts and arguments with each other over size and superiority. Watching them is to get in touch with the utter dumbness of teenage boys, at once hilarious and appalling.

Naturally, it's up to the older woman to exercise her patience, to teach, cajole and nurture. At times, her irritation reaches peak levels and the boys have to placate her, beg her not to leave, pay flowery compliments. OK, forget the stuff about the overkill, this is a pretty fantastic vacation. Who wouldn't rather do this than get stuck in traffic, take the kids to some clammy amusement spot or chew on drive-thru burgers?

Tenoch (Diego Luna) is the son of a millionaire politician, and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) shares an apartment with his put-upon mother and many siblings. Friends since childhood, the pair do everything together, with Tenoch usually picking up the tab. When their respective girlfriends leave for a European vacation, the boys do nothing but swim in the massive pool of an exclusive country club, smoke dope and talk about sex.

Just as this starts to get boring, they come upon Luisa (Maribel Verdu), the Spanish wife of Tenoch's cousin. The boys are immediately attracted to the quiet, older woman with her mysterious aura, and, hoping to impress her, they spin tales about an imaginary beach called Boca del Cielo (Heaven's Mouth). Luisa listens with only half an ear, but a week later she calls Tenoch and asks them to take her there. Bursting with hormonal enthusiasm, the pair agree.

Luisa has her own reasons for taking off on a trip with two teenagers she hardly knows. Her husband has just confessed over the phone that he's had many affairs and she's also discovered that she's gravely ill. Instead of locating her husband and screaming her head off, Luisa takes a good long look at what she really needs at the moment. It's to feel like a woman again, to be loved and admired without question, to take off for a few days and forget everything. To this end, she chooses two strapping lads as yet unmarred by life. That they can't seem to get the conversation beyond their own horniness is OK with Luisa -- she simply joins in and eggs them on.

However, like a pinata, the most important facets of the story are encased and invisible. Cuaron leaves the most beautiful lines unspoken, and crucial and heartrending scenes never materialize. Instead he deploys Daniel Gimenez Cacho as a deep-voiced narrator who has no bearing on the story itself, but who hovers over the entire proceedings like an invisible fairy godfather. His last line speaks of Luisa's inner thoughts, how when she and the two boys parted, she had wanted to say to them: "Things happen in life and it's all part of your destiny. You can't change it."

But she didn't. Instead she turned around, shed the sarong she had around her hips and ran into the ocean.

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