Wednesday, 13 January 2010

What Kind Of Friend Is Always Hiding?

My love for Y Tu Mamá También is not a secret (look here and here), and as it kept popping up in those best of the 00s lists I had a craving to see it again. Plus, I think one film with Gael García Bernal is never enough.

By the time También came around, director Alfonso Cuarón had already helmed one Hollywood production: the moderately successful Great Expectations three years earlier. He has obviously since returned to Hollywood (or at least English-language productions) with the third Harry Potter installment and Children of Men. In fact, maybe the surprising thing is that he hasn't returned to Mexico, after También broke opening weekend box office records there.

This film, probably more so than Amores Perros, made Bernal known around the world (probably because he keeps getting nekked in it - how unfortunate...) Indeed, it is still his third highest grossing film at the US box office after the Brad Pitt/Cate Blanchett helmed Babel and the wildly acclaimed The Motorcycle Diaries. In También, Bernal plays Julio, young, and best friends with Tenoch (Diego Luna, who hasn't done too badly out of the film himself, though I believe he was the bigger star in Mexico going into production.) The pair meet the wife of Tenoch's cousin Luisa (Maribel Verdú), fresh in Mexico from Spain, at Tenoch's sister's wedding, where they inform them of their just-hatched plan to go to a beautiful, pristine beach known as Heaven's Mouth in the coming days, inviting her along with them.

Luisa shortly receives a call from her husband, away on business, informing her of his infidelity, and she phones Tenoch to take him up on the boys' offer. After madly trying to find a place that could pass as the fictional Heaven's Mouth, the boys pick Luisa up and they start off on their road trip, each dreaming of bedding the beauty.

The trip begins benignly enough, but quickly descends into fighting, aggravation, hatred, confessions of indiscretions with the others' girlfriends, and out and out hostility. Luisa gives up on them both, storming off on a deserted road, but they convince her to get back in the car on the condition that they give up on arguing and accept that what she says goes.

Because one picture is TOTALLY not enough.

Finally, they miraculously stumble across a perfect beach, and quickly all animosity seems to resolve itself, until the aftermath of their final night...

The film is an incredible study of friendship and of how it can go awry. A grown-up road trip about teenagers, it dares to mine emotional territory that so many other films of this ilk coming out of the studio system would never dream to go near. Sexuality in all its forms, death, drugs - it's all there for the taking. These two friends, with Luisa in the middle, who until then thought they knew everything about each other quickly come to realise that for two people from opposite sides of the proverbial track (Tenoch being rich, Julio being poor) there will almost always be things that the other can't understand. But beyond that, regardless of their class differences, there are so many things that human nature will dictate regardless. Jealousy and the havoc it can wreak on an otherwise unassailable bond is in the foreground here.

Luisa, nursing a secret, serves as a means to an end. By being older and wiser, she draws from them an attempt to prove themselves capable of understanding and relating to her, despite the attempts of the other to cut them down in a childish display of immaturity - whether lighthearted or not. Her willingness to surrender herself to the charms of the boys may seem initially cruel of her, like she is taking advantage of them to gain her own revenge, but when her secret comes out as the final scene of the film plays out you realise that she is not. Or if she is taking advantage of them, it is not from malevolence or vengeance or anything approaching it. She is as much a victim of the world they are all inhabiting as Julio and Tenoch.

How much do you want to be Maribel Verdú? About 4000 muches.

Bernal and Luna are superb in their roles. Every second of their friendship reeks achingly true, whether they are sharing a joint or screaming at each other. Verdú wonderfully inhabits Luisa, carrying off brevity when her face needs to be brave but rendering her heartache in private without a moment of artifice. Cuarón draws out the story, with a voiceover digressional narrative that could almost be out of place were its revelations not so beautiful and poignant, and plants you right in that car with them. The hand held camerawork from the CRIMINALLY UNDERRATED (you heard it here first... or at least most recently) Emmanuel Lubezki means that you actually are right there in the car with them, or at least running alongside.

Truly, nothing puts a foot wrong. The entirely diegetic score is not often there but always pitch-perfect, the crafting of the film (from editing to various on- and off-screen design elements) is spot on. 

It's rare, I think, that a film on the surface so light but underneath so deep comes along and plays like this one. The beauty and youthfulness holds hands and skips strongly along with the darker coming of age themes of the age of the boys and the secret of Luisa. It's 5 stars all the way, and after writing this I kind of want to go and watch it again.

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