As is often the case, many of this year’s Best Director Oscar nominees had an expansive history in the indie scene before making it big.
“Nebraska” director Alexander Payne long-reined king of the medium budget quasi-indie with such critical darlings as “About Schmidt” and “Sideways” before striking gold in 2011 with George Clooney in “The Descendants.”
British director Steve McQueen had a successful career as a visual artist before pairing up with Michael Fassbender for a trilogy of increasingly acclaimed feature length films: “Hunger” (2008), “Shame” (2011), and most recently, “12 Years a Slave” (2013).
But it is “Gravity” director Alfonso Cuarón whose career is perhaps most marked by sporadic flirts with mainstream success.
Three years after helming the big-budget flop “Great Expectations,” Cuarón retreated to the indie realm and his native land of Mexico for a film called “Y Tu Mamá También.”
The film, too frank in its depictions of youthful sex, had no chance of becoming a mainstream hit stateside. Unfortunately for most American filmgoers, the film is a complete masterpiece.
Though many are barfing praise at the CGI visuals of “Gravity”, “Y Tu Mamá También” is certainly the more rewarding aesthetic experience — and you do not have to endure George Clooney’s faux-suave swooning to get it.
The lush Mexico depicted in the film is frequently depressing, occasionally horrific, but more staggeringly beautiful than any CGI visage of the cosmos.
The film follows two well-off young men, Julio (Gael García Bernal), and Tenoch (Diego Luna), as they embark on a carefree adventure to a beach with an older woman, Luisa (Maribel Verdú).
The film’s seemingly easy-going premise serves as a springboard for some pretty lofty existential concerns.
The first and most apparent: the boy’s “coming-of-age” as they navigate their burgeoning sexuality. By subverting the tropes of the road trip sex-comedy, the film makes painful comments on intimacy and masculinity that no big-budget Hollywood film would touch.
A larger theme that permeates the film: the intense socioeconomic stratification that cripples modern Mexico.
Throughout the young men’s travels they frequently pass visions of intense poverty. In one scene, the group pause for a meal and some drinks.
The camera drifts from their table into the kitchen, showing a vast community slaving away to enable their night of mindless partying. This motif is echoed throughout the picture.
A third and even larger theme: the fleeting nature of youth, and ultimately, life itself. The epilogue, in which the young men meet after a year of separation, makes for one of the more effortlessly profound statements on death in the history of contemporary cinema. It is truly moving.
“Y Tu Mamá También” is available on DVD at the Milner Library.