The 2001 film directed and co-written by Alfonso Cuaron presents a unique coming-of-age tale that strives to reach the nature and meaning of human existence. Extremely approachable, though graphic, this film is one that will resonate with the viewer, and likely never leave them. The story follows two teenage boys as they journey across Mexico with an older woman, learning about sex, each other and themselves as they go.
Natural lighting and handheld camera styles gave the film a slightly gritty, extremely real feel that complimented the graphic nature of the film. This form of highly realistic cinematography, coupled with Cuaron’s no punches held style places the audience within the scene and asks them to react. Each movement of the camera has a slight tilt and jostle to it, suggesting a very voyeuristic vantage point, one that could easily become involved. It’s here, when the audience feels as though they are standing with the characters on the beach, sprawled across the backseat next to the momentary couple, and leaning through the doorway of the motel room that the viewer becomes emotionally invested in the characters, the story and the film.
In a way that is unparalleled in American film, Y Tu Mama Tambien is narrated by a third party, an omniscient narrator that is entirely detached from the plot and the characters. This narrator offers a lot of minute detail on events and characters that are never realized within the course of the film. At first this narration appears superfluous, but by the end credits it has attached itself to the viewer, yet again cementing the film in the memory. While few of the notes added by the narrator ever circle back to the story, they work together to provide us with a reference to location in both time and space, as well as a reminder that there was a bigger world, even though we don’t see any of it.
With no musical score, we are driven to notice the aural background, which brings us further into the film. As the narrator cuts in, the scene continues, but the background noise is absent, adding to our realization that the world outside the characters is in motion as well. The realism is almost unsettling, especially for a viewer accustomed to American film and high production cost productions. There are no effects, and no after production work seems to have been done aside from the over-laying of the narration. This style is at first difficult to watch, but after a short time seems as natural to film as could be possible. The idiom that less is more can be considered quite applicable to film, and especially so to Y Tu Mama Tambien.
There is little in the way of technical bells and whistles, quite possibly nothing at all, and this draws all of our attention then directly to the dialogue, acting, and story of the film, which Y Tu Mama Tambien has in spades.