June 21, 2001 09:33am
Mexican Coming-Of-Age Film Tests Society's Mores
by: Lorraine Orlandi
(MEXICO CITY) -- A new film depicting two foul-mouthed teen-agers having sex with an older woman, smoking pot, masturbating and engaging in a fleeting homosexual romp is testing Mexico's increasingly liberal society.
The filmmakers say ``Y tu mama tambien'' (''And your mama, too'') is a coming-of-age drama that portrays the lives of Mexico's urban youth, who would gain from seeing their travails depicted on the big screen.
``My son was 16 when we started this project and he was pretty much my adviser. I decided to do a more honest film that kids could see and discuss,'' director Alfonso Cuaron said.
But Mexican authorities say elements in the film are inappropriate for viewers under 18 and have barred them from seeing it by giving it a C rating for adults 18 and older.
The filmmakers want to mount a legal challenge to the rating, calling it arbitrary and hypocritical. ``This is misguided censorship and paternalism,'' producer Jorge Vergara told reporters following the movie's debut this month.
``Y tu mama tambien'' broke Mexican box office records for local film openings, grossing $2.2 million in its first week even as cinemas turned away viewers under 18. Whether or not the rating debate has boosted its appeal, it is among a series of recent film hits that challenge long-standing Mexican social and political mores, sparking controversy and joining what critics call a national cinematic renaissance.
Among the first, ``Sexo, Pudor y Lagrimas'' (''Sex, Shame and Tears''), smashed box office records in 1999. More recently ''Amores Perros'' (''Love's a Bitch'') was nominated for an Academy Award as best foreign film. Both were rated C.
The censorship charge recalls last year's controversy over ''Ley de Herodes'' (''Herod's Law''), a movie that brashly and hilariously lambasted the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) -- at the time still in power after seven decades.
Authorities first tried to bury that film before it gained wide release -- and widespread success. It also was rated C.
The popularity of these movies reflects changing attitudes toward sexuality, drugs and authority in this overwhelmingly Catholic, traditionally macho society.
But Cuaron, a Mexican now living in New York whose English-language credits include ``Little Princess'' and ``Great Expectations,'' said his new movie was suffering from remnants of the authoritarianism that marked the PRI's rule, which ended with the party's defeat in last July's presidential election.
DRUGS, SEX AND SWEARING
``Y tu mama tambien'' chronicles a road trip by two Mexican teen-agers and a Spanish woman 10 years their senior. Amid alcohol-soaked, lust-fueled comic turns, the journey takes on existential dimensions as it confronts questions of innocence, friendship and mortality in the context of Mexican society.
At a recent showing, viewers in the packed theater howled in gleeful incredulity at one scene depicting a spontaneous homosexual encounter.
Carlos Fernandez, director of the Interior Ministry's office of Radio, Television and Cinematography (RTC), which regulates movies, agreed the rating process is not an exact science. In Mexico, a movie requires RTC approval for release.
``Y tu mama tambien,'' like other films, was viewed by a panel of seven RTC staff members, who unanimously applied the C rating, Fernandez said. Its blithe depiction of marijuana use weighed most heavily in the rating, he said, followed by the frank treatment of adolescent sex, which has been praised by critics.
The film's language, rife with vulgar street slang and double entendres, is a key motif and its Web site (www.ytumamatambien.com.mx) even includes a glossary.
When filmmakers objected to the rating and asked for a reclassification, a second panel of seven ratings board members came up with the same result, Fernandez said.
``It has done stupendously at the box office, which shows classification has nothing to do with quality,'' he said. ``We're not talking about censorship.''
But Cuaron said the process was based on the tastes of bureaucrats rather than a fair representation of society.
Still, he expects an even harsher response in the United States, where he is negotiating the movie's release. The Motion Picture Association of America's recommended ratings, while not mandatory as in Mexico, are followed by most exhibitors.
``Don't get me wrong that censorship occurs only in Mexico,'' Cuaron said. ``In the United States it's worse. I'll probably have to cut it to get it released.''