Essay: Sexuality in “Y Tu Mama Tambien”

Traditionally movies reflect the culture of the country and the time where and when they were produced. In the same time, the movies, which go beyond traditional stereotypes, have far-reaching consequences and make up a lot of fuss among critics as well as among ordinary viewers. But what makes any movie really significant and noteworthy is the message its creators attempt to convey to the audience.

Among the films that differ significantly from the traditional films and released a few years ago, namely in 2001, is “Y Tu Mama Tambien” directed by Alfonso Cuaron. This film, under certain circumstances, could be conventional for American or Western European audience but the fact that this film was shot in Mexico and by Mexicans reveals the extent to which this film is unusual for local cinematography and even goes against the general line. The main cause is obviously its central theme, namely sexuality, which is traditionally a kind of taboo for conservative Mexican cinematography. As a result this film produces great impression by its contradiction to existing canons by which Mexican movies and culture at large are labelled. Moreover, this movie may be even treated revolutionary for a conservative catholic country like Mexico.

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Socio-cultural background of the creation of “Y Ta Mama Tambien”
First of all, before analysing the movie, it is necessary to dwell upon the socio-cultural situation in Mexico when the film was shooting which naturally should influence the director as well as the whole team working on this film.

Obviously the movie, especially a successful one, such as “Y Ta Mama Tambien” is profoundly integrated in the socio-cultural trends that take place in the society when the film is in the process of its creation. At this respect “Y Ta Mama Tambien” is very progressive film that deals with a very delicate theme for such a country as Mexico for the theme of sexuality is one of the central in the film.

In order to understand the extent to which the film violates traditional stereotypes and reveals the theme that used to be taboo, it is necessary to say a few words about Mexican culture and traditional views. The fact that this country is conservative does not actually explain anything since many countries may be treated as conservative but their films may discuss the theme of sexuality quite openly and in different aspects. But Mexican culture is very different from its northern neighbour, the US for instance. The reason is that the country has deep rooted catholic traditions. As a rule Mexicans as well as other representatives of Latin America are very religious people and they tend to live according to the rules and regulations of the Catholic church which, in its turn, if not ignored than did not discuss sexuality openly. Consequently, the film where sexuality is in the focus of the director attention should, in all probability, caused repugnance of the main part of the Mexican audience and it should not be accepted at all.

However the real reaction of the wide audience on the film was different. At first glance it seems to be a bit paradoxical but when one has a deeper look at Mexican culture on the turn of the centuries than the reaction of Mexicans on the film will be clear. Naturally, the film was not accepted by absolutely all Mexicans and even in more liberal and democratic countries the reaction on the film was quite dubious but still it was quite popular and there were a lot of Mexicans who really enjoyed this film.

Logically the question about the reasons of such a reaction arises but the answer to this question is very simple. The basic reason is that Mexican culture as well as any culture in the world is not static it is dynamic. Consequently traditional views and stereotypes change but such a change is a very slow process. Nonetheless the changes in Mexican culture and views inevitably occurred and they influenced first the younger part of the local population among which “Y Ta Mama Tambien” became particularly popular. In fact the views of new generation of Mexicans are more liberal and democratic than the older generations have. In such a way a gradual shift in Mexican culture is observed and the films like “Y Ta Mama Tambine” serves as vehicles of the transition of Mexican culture from conservative catholic basis to a new more liberal one and it is quite symbolically that the main theme of the film is sexuality which is the less discussible theme in conservative circles.

Sexuality in “Y Ta Mama Tambine” vs. Cultural Stereotypes
On realizing the extent to which the film is revolutionary and reflecting the recent trends in Mexican culture, it is necessary to analyse in details the film itself in order to find out what is so innovative in it that it has got such epithets.

First of all, it would be probably logical to start with the plot of the story and than discuss it, taking into consideration the opinion of critics. At fist glance, the plot of the film is simple if not to say primitive and many indicate that the film may be basically referred to so called road films such as those shot by Bertrand Blier’ road comedy “Going Places” or Godard’s 60s films. It is the story of two young men Tenoch and Julio who set in a trip to an imagined, paradisiacal, off-the-beaten-track beach called La Boca del Cielo with an older woman Luisa. During this trip they learn about life, friendship, sex and each other.

In fact Tenoch and Julio symbolize youth, which explores and discovers a new world, new feelings and emotions and at the same time they learn the life. It is quite symbolic that Tenoch and Julio represents a new generation of Mexicans and they belong to different social classes, to put it more precisely Tenoch is the son of the country’s rich, corrupt secretary of state and Julio is the lower-middle-class son of a single mother. Obviously the director wants to emphasize that the protagonists represent the progressive part of Mexican youth, a new generation deprived off conservative stereotypes and beliefs but what is more important by such a social differentiation Cuaron underlines that the socio-cultural changes involve representatives of different social classes and in such a way they seem to be inevitable.

As for their companion, Luisa, she is a woman that wants to be happy in her personal life and she does not limit herself by traditional Mexican familial obligations. She is not a typical Mexican women who is concerned about house holding only and sacrifices her personal life for the sake of her family. In contrast, Luisa seeks for happiness she wants to enjoy life this is why she left her unfaithful husband and goes with Tenoch and Julio and seduces both. In fact her trip with Tenoch and Julio is her chance to explore the new life she does not get used to, her attitude to them is a sort of incredulous delight for they are young and they have just started to explore the life. So she simply joins them and it seems as her chance to find what she is looking for.

At the same time, it is very important that the audience basically views Tenoch and Julio from Luisa’s standpoint, the standpoint of a woman who has already got some life experience and attempts to change her life for better even despite the fact that she violates all traditional cultural and moral norms. And if for Tenoch and Julio it may be just a realization of their male fantasies than for Luisa it is the opportunity to go further than a Mexican woman can. In such a way Cuaron underlines that sometimes it is possible to resist to the general line in order to achieve personal happiness and may be it is Tenoch and Julio who would be the new generation freer, more liberal and not limited by some stereotypes, which cannot provide people with happiness.

Furthermore, the director probably deliberately chooses sexuality as the main theme of his film. Actually he tends to depict the characters striving for physical pleasure rather than spiritual but there is also a hidden part of the iceberg. In other words he uses physical aspect as a primitive but the first step on the way to spiritual liberation. Moreover, it would be more understandable for the wide audience and closer to them and characterizes the film by a significant degree of a kind of brevity. This brevity is expressed through the characters ability to be truthful in such a delicate theme, as sexuality for the director has managed to reveal this theme realistically.

The film realism, which sometimes is a bit exaggerated, or to put it more precisely shocking for conservative Mexican audience, is depicted through the relations between Luisa and her lovers, Tenoch and Julio, as well as through the depiction of Tenoch and Julio who are excited by each joint, by every beer, every chance for sex as if it were their first time but at the same time they are not cynical or burned out.

However, the film has a kind of open ending for it is hardly possible to predict for sure whether Tenoch and Julio’s adventure with Luisa will be one they will cherish their whole life or it will become just a symbol of their lost freedom. In fact this is the dilemma each viewer has to solve for him/herself.

Not surprisingly that such a film could not fail unnoticed by critics. For instance, the British critic, Robin Wood identified it as “one of the rare book-to-film adaptations faithful to the spirit of its source while managing to be its own creation” (2003:319). It is quite noteworthy because the film is really particular and unusually truthful, especially in such theme as sexuality. But it is the director who probably said the best about his film for, characterising his creation, Cuaron has said that it is “about two teenage boys finding their identity as adults and… also about the search for identity of a country going through its teenage years and trying to find itself as an adult nation” (Wood 2003:78). In fact it characterises the whole film and its significance because it is the film telling the truth about sexuality, which reveals the entity of human beings and in such a way it suggests a perspective for further development not only of its protagonists Tenoch and Julio but the whole nation.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that without falsifying the film’s free spirit it’s a combination of a kind of fairy tale and dirty joke since it is just a story which aim is not to shock the audience but to provoke people to think over the question raised. The director is brave enough to attempt to tell the truth about sexuality but still it is a bit similar to male fantasy. At the same time the real message the director attempts to convey to the audience seem to be much farther reaching. The truth about sexuality is told purposely and purposefully to reveal that traditional Mexican stereotypes gradually become archaic and they cannot make absolutely all people happy.

The sexual freedom implies the liberation of people from the ties of stereotypes and suggests an alternative way of life that may lead to personal happiness of some people. On the other hand, the film does not force people to choose sexual liberation as the only way to happiness. On the contrary, it tends to suggest just an alternative. At the same time, it makes the audience realize that the society has changed and, consequently, cultural and moral norms should be re-evaluated, especially in such a conservative society as Mexican one.

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Foster, David W. (2002). Mexico City in Contemporary Mexican Cinema. New York: New Publishers.
Lowenstein, Stephen. (Ed.) (2000.) My first Movie: Twenty Celebrated Directors Talk about their First Film. LA: Touchstone.
Shaw, Deborah. (2003). Contemporary cinema of Latin America: ten key films. New York: McGraw Hill.
Wood, Robin. (2003). Contemporary Mexican Cinema. London: Routledge.

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