Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writers: Alfonso Cuarón, Carlos Cuarón
Starring: Maribel Verdú, Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna
Y Tu Mamá Tambíen tells the story of two young Mexican men, Tenoch Iturbide (Diego Luna) and Julio Zapata (Gael García Bernal). Tenoch is the scion of a well-connected family while Julio is middle class, but both are more interested in alcohol, pot, and in particular sex than any kind of career. The film opens abruptly on Tenoch having sex with his girlfriend Ana. After climaxing, Tenoch utters one of cinema’s classic opening lines: “Promise that you’re not going to fuck any Italians.” Ana is off to Italy; as her boyfriend, Tenoch is anxious to remind her that he’s the only person allowed to have sex with her. Ana requests the same vow from Tenoch. When they became partners they unconsciously traded their sexual access rights as dictated by the prevailing covenants. But neither is fully acquiescent to those covenants: Tenoch and Ana both make vague promises though neither can quite bring themselves to offer a watertight assurance. One is left with the distinct impression that in Italy Ana will enjoy a good deal of the local salami.
Cut to Julio, whose girlfriend Ceci will accompany Ana. While Ceci’s parents fret about her missing the plane, Ceci rips down her track pants and issues a boarding call to Julio. “Are you going out tonight?” Ceci asks in mid-fuck, bearding Julio into promising fidelity while the blood that usually circles his brain is occupied elsewhere. Like Tenoch and Ana and most other young couples, Julio and Ceci unknowingly acquired their society’s shame-based, constricting beliefs dictating whom they can and cannot sleep with.
With their girlfriends dispatched, Tenoch and Julio seek other outlets for their sexual urges. Any promises extracted during the farewell sex were for the girls to keep, not the boys. Tenoch and Julio hit on Luisa Cortés (Maribel Verdú, alternately feisty and vulnerable throughout the film), an elegant young Spanish woman married to Tenoch’s cousin Jano. Despite wooing Luisa with concocted tales of a trip to a remote, fabulous beach called Heaven’s Mouth, Tenoch and Julio depart unsatisfied.
But all is not well in Luisa’s world. First she visits a hospital for the results of some unspecified tests. Cuarón neatly downplays this scene, though it later proves crucial to understanding Luisa. She then receives a remorseful call from Jano who confesses that he has slept with another woman. Once again the issue of sexual access rights—who owns them and what happens when that ownership is violated—erupts onto the canvas of Y Tu Mamá Tambíen. Boundary, violation and reaction… an angry and tearful Luisa snatches up the phone and asks Tenoch if the trip to Heaven’s Mouth is still on.
The road trip from Mexico City to the beach forms the spine of the film. Despite pretensions of being a buddy road trip, both Tenoch and Julio have only one real objective: sex with Luisa. As already examined, our covenants hold that sex is only proper within the sphere of a committed relationship. This has the effect of restricting sex to one partner at any given time. For the two male protagonists of Y Tu Mamá Tambíen this implicit societal programming means they must compete for Luisa’s affection, which is the key to lowering her knickers—and because, like Court Foster in The Man in the Moon, Luisa can only love one of them, only one of them can win. This sets up a clash over Luisa’s sexual access rights that will drive the film to its climax.
Tenoch and Julio don’t actually know where they’re going—they only have vague directions from a perpetually stoned friend—but that doesn’t impede their quest to seduce Luisa. The conversation in the car soon turns to sex. Luisa proves just as ribald as her male companions—until they stop at a motel for the night. Hoping, like Renato in Malèna, to glimpse her naked, the boys spy on Luisa through a broken window; instead they glimpse an unwanted nakedness as she sits on the bed and cries. Tenoch and Julio hastily retreat, out of their depth and ashamed of their voyeurism.
The journey continues until the car blows its radiator, forcing another overnight stop. Tenoch has a shower but discovers there’s no shampoo. Wearing only a towel, he goes to borrow some from Luisa. He finds her crying again. Tenoch turns to leave but she asks him to drop the towel. As he stands naked before Luisa, his machismo vanishes. “Stroke it; touch yourself,” she eggs him.
Like Ann in Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Tenoch is too ashamed to comply. Luisa offers to bare her breasts but even that isn’t enough to overcome his shame. She beckons Tenoch and sucks him. “Feel me; eat me,” Luisa begs, seeking solace for her woes in human touch and granting Tenoch the access he craves. They fuck hurriedly on a bed that wobbles disarmingly beneath them. Tenoch apologises after coming quickly. Not quickly enough: Julio watches from the doorway.
Julio turns away, sexual betrayal rising like bile in his stomach, that same toxic mixture of nausea, disgust and humiliation seen when John Lotter discovered Brandon’s dildo in Boys Don’t Cry. Like Jay in Intimacy, Julio has unconsciously fallen in love with Luisa during the road trip to emotionally legitimise his sexual desire for her. What does he get in return for this emotional investment? Betrayal.
This sense of betrayal impels the next plot turn. Julio’s bruised ego does the talking when they next meet: echoing John Millaney in Sex, Lies, and Videotape, he blurts out that he once had sex with Tenoch’s girlfriend Ana. Julio’s behaviour may seem childish and irrational, but through the filter of sexual shame it makes sense. Even though Luisa consented to sex with Tenoch, Julio’s anger is entirely directed at the latter, firstly because Julio still has sexual designs on Luisa—which requires him to remain affectionate towards her—and secondly because Tenoch’s conquest of Luisa has humiliated Julio, destabilising their friendship. Tenoch spends the night raging at Julio as he too feels the pain of violated sexual access rights.
By the morning Tenoch and Julio are no longer on speaking terms and the road trip hangs in the balance. Luisa realises she has ruptured the harmonious world that existed before she had sex with Tenoch. She redresses this in the only possible way. Still bruised from Julio’s revelation of Ana’s infidelity, Tenoch pulls the car over and—like Shame’s Brandon Sullivan when Sissy shags his boss in his own bed—loiters angrily while Luisa straddles Julio in the cramped confines of the back seat.
Order has been restored to their little triptych by bringing the two men back to level terms. They have something else in common, too: both ejaculate so quickly—another side effect of shame, previously seen with Dave in Wish You Were Here and Frank Booth in Blue Velvet—they feel impelled to apologise. Afterwards Tenoch turns the tables on Julio by boasting that he once had sex with Ceci. Whether any of these claims or counterclaims about fucking each other’s girlfriends is true is beside the point; sex with Luisa—the sole objective of the road trip—has led both men to feel betrayed, making them as miserable as Shame’s Brandon Sullivan in his climactic threesome and triggering petulant reactions. Both Tenoch and Julio are confronted by their repressed beliefs around sexual access rights—and both refuse the opportunity for change. Like Ann Bishop Millaney in the first half of Sex, Lies, and Videotape, self-awareness eludes them. Luisa loses patience and strides off to thumb down a ride. The boys beg her to stay. Once again Luisa dangles the lure of sexual access—or the loss of it—to manage the situation. She agrees only after they promise to end their feud.
The threesome drives on into the night. Completely lost, Julio turns onto a dirt road but they become bogged in sand. Tenoch and Julio fall asleep in the car, failing to notice the nagging pain that keeps Luisa awake. In the morning they find themselves on a glorious beach. A local fisherman takes them on a boat-trip around the coves. In the film’s only fairy-tale moment, he reveals that the beach is called Heaven’s Mouth.
Tenoch, Julio and Luisa find a beachfront motel-cum-bar where, like its male protagonists, Y Tu Mamá Tambíen rapidly climaxes. While the boys play table football, Luisa gives Jano a goodbye call without really saying why she’s leaving him. She gets drunk and a riotous conversation follows, laden with lascivious toasts; Lynda Mansell from Wish You Were Here would have felt right at home. For all its crudeness the scene brims with life and joy. Tenoch and Julio attain a new level of self-awareness as they realise they are all sexually sovereign individuals. While earlier blaming each other for feeling bad, they now accept responsibility for their own feelings. With this any lingering tension dissipates. The two boys rekindle their friendship as they brag that they fucked each other’s girlfriends every which way; Julio even makes the drunken claim that his conquests include Tenoch’s girlfriend Ana “and your mother too.” The trio dissolves in laughter and the film cuts to their motel room.
Tenoch and Julio simultaneously explore Luisa’s body, no longer seeing her as a sexual property to be owned but as a woman to be served. Luisa abandons herself to wild, primal sex. In a clever shot that transcends the limitations of our ingrained sexual access rights, she resolves the tricky question of whom to service first by taking both men in her mouth at once. The next day Tenoch and Julio return to Mexico City while Luisa stays on with the fisherman’s family. A voice-over reveals that, afterwards, Tenoch and Julio stopped seeing each other: we prefer to absorb our life-lessons, particularly sexual ones, alone. A year later they have a chance encounter. Tenoch reveals that Luisa died of cancer soon after the road trip; it was her last flowering and she made the most of it.
Like the landscape and culture that spawned it, Y Tu Mamá Tambíen is a coarse, fiery film, the celluloid equivalent of tequila. There is no Hollywood gloss, the studied artiness of French cinema nor the grimness of English realism. It is pragmatic and unsentimental, and all the better for it. Tenoch, Julio and Luisa go through painful metamorphoses as they seek their own redemptions. By realising what Y Tu Mamá Tambíen shows us about escaping from Sexcatraz we can glimpse a world where those painful journeys are superfluous; we can cut straight to the beach, get drunk and jest about fucking our friends’ mothers.
All of the films seen in Sexcatraz reveal society’s fundamental sexual shame, the trinity of boundary, violation and reaction, and the sexual covenants that ensue from it. Every film reveals a fragment of our hidden sexual programming and the devastation it causes—or how, as in films like Swimming Pool, Sex, Lies, and Videotape and Y Tu Mamá Tambíen, it can be recognised and released through openness and acceptance, self-awareness and self-responsibility, non-judgment and forgiveness. Virtually all of the concepts presented in Sexcatraz are included in the majestic sweep of The Singing Detective, a 1986 BBC musical mini-series written by Dennis Potter and directed by Jon Ariel.