Y tu mamá también — or not! "This film has been modified from its original theatrical version for language and content."

Even the film’s opening — one might say establishing — shot was cut.

In media interruptus: the R-Rated Y tu begins after Ana (Ana López Mercado) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) have already climaxed.

Despite their class difference, Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch dress and groom alike at the beginning of Y tu mamá también.

The film then cuts to Tenoch, Julio, and their friend Saba (Andrés Almeida) rolling joints and discussing ecstasy, but as part of the same attempt to capture contemporary Mexican economic stratification.

Despite their grand plans to cheat on Ana and Ceci, Tenoch and Julio only dance together as their summer of hedonism commences.

Y tu begins some scenes with politically contextualizing shots, in this case, snapshots of the body guards who literally frame Tenoch’s sister’s wedding reception…

Y tu often uses costume design to add political commentary to its romantic narrative.  In this case, Sub-commandante Marco appears on Tenoch’s tee-shirt as he and Luisa plan their trip south.

Like Julio’s sister, Tenoch also occasionally wears a military beret, but without any evident allegiance to the ongoing national conflict it recalls.

Julio’s sister wears a military uniform reminiscent of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, a nod to the siblings’ last name.

As Luisa explains why she first fell for Juno…


The radiator explodes when Luisa suggests anal pleasure.

Stuck at Heaven’s Mouth.

A band of pigs, escaped from a local ranch, ruin the campsite and force the travelers to go home with Chuy and Mabel, but the narrator knows that they will also soon cause an outbreak of trichinosis at local festival.

At the end of the R-rated Y tu’s climatic sex scene, Luisa is still positioned between the two boys.

Julio and Tenoch drink to being “milk brothers”…

... and again to Julio’s intimate familiarity with Tenoch’s mother.

When they go for coffee, Julio lounges sideways on his banquette, so the boys literally do not have to face one another.


Sex versus the small screen:
home video censorship and
Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu mamá también

by Caetlin Benson-Allott

Seventeen years ago, video critic Charles Tashiro warned that “you can wait for it on video, but ‘it,’ like Godot, will never arrive,” and today his aesthetic lament carries political implications as well (16). Video-tapes and -discs have changed our experience of motion picture exhibition significantly over the past thirty-odd years, due in part to the unprecedented proliferation of adaptation techniques like letterboxing, Pan & Scan editing, and color correction. However, some movies also lose footage during their transfer to video, particularly sexually and politically charged footage. In these cases, you see less of the movie on video than the full theatrical release. Motion pictures do go through many editing processes over the course of their production and distribution, of course, but these just-for-video elisions cut their movies’ narratives, tenor, and arguments, often without acknowledging the loss.[1] [open endnotes in new window] Furthermore, these video excisions almost exclusively affect international productions. The result is that this video editing effectively determines who gets to see which international releases and what parts of them, given that most U.S. viewers noe choose to or must “wait for it on video” (Klinger 4). This media-specific censorship suggests that video faces different moral standards than the cinema, standards that are enforced by the MPAA’s self-interested nationalist application of its rating system. However, it would be inaccurate to characterize either the MPAA or its member studios as specifically xenophobic. Rather they self-censor in order to appease video rental and sell-through outlets' conservative economic clout.

Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu mamá también is only one of the many victims of the U.S. video industry’s commercial adversity to foreignness and sexuality. However, the changes made for U.S. video distribution of Cuarón’s film are not only egregious but also exemplary, because they highlight the political ramifications of the MPAA and U.S. studios’ new economic dependence on video distribution. Specifically, MGM cut five minutes from Y tu’s film version in order to produce an R-rated video acceptable to the major video outlets’ standards for family friendly commercial viability. Although the studio also distributed an unrated “special edition” of Cuarón’s movie as it appeared in theaters, the R-rated standard edition the director put together at MGM’s behest led Cuarón to lament,

“I castrated my movie” (Hirschberg 15).

As I will show, Cuarón had to cede to MGM’s demand for a family-friendly video version of Y tu in order to secure any U.S. distribution for his film. However, this more marketable Y tu is missing more than a few penises and pelvic thrusts. Cuarón also had to cut the sexual mestizaje that completes his film’s narrative arc and political allegory.[2] This climax, the homosexual union of the movie’s teenage male protagonists, carries both dramatic and political significance in the film because Cuarón uses Mexico’s national tradition of allegorical filmmaking to condemn the neoliberal turn in Mexican politics.[3] Losing the culmination of the boys’ sexual narrative garbles Cuarón’s critique of government corruption and economic exploitation in Mexico. In this way, the editing sanitizes the film for some of the same multinational corporations that benefit most from recent trade liberalizations in Mexico, of which NAFTA is one (notorious) example.[4]

Y tu’s U.S. video distribution thus made it the subject of the same transnational neoliberal forces that it seeks to critique. For that reason, in this article I will employ both textual analysis and industry history to demonstrate how the giant video retailers have rendered video an even more fiscally—as so politically—conservative format than film. The first section of the essay details what gets censored from the R-rated Y tu, while the second section explores how those losses undermines the film’s larger political critique. My conclusion then situates Y tu mamá también within the recent upheaval in U.S. film and video distribution that made these changes seem fiscally necessary to its distributors. In this manner, I hope to communicate the political significance of Hollywood’s economic dependence on video distribution.

Formal economics: story, structure,
and narration in Y tu mamá también

In order to explain what is missing from the R-rated Y tu mamá también, I must first briefly summarize the film’s plot and voice-over narration and contextualize their contributions to the allegorical significance of the movie’s queer climax. Y tu mamá también opens just after its protagonists, Tenoch Iturbide (Diego Luna) and Julio Zapata (Gael García Bernal), graduate from high school in the summer of 1999. Despite their close friendship, Tenoch and Julio come from radically different class backgrounds: Tenoch is the son of a wealthy undersecretary of state while Julio’s single mother works as a secretary in a large factory. The movie opens with the boys saying goodbye to their girlfriends, who are spending the summer in Italy. Alone and without any responsibilities, they meet up with their friend Saba (Andrés Almeida) to inaugurate a season of sexual infidelity and drug use.

Well, perhaps we shouldn’t say only dance … … they do do lots of other things alone together as well.

Their hedonistic plans quickly deteriorate into ennui, however, and Julio and Tenoch find themselves reduced to smoking pot and horsing around a deserted country club. Then the wedding of Tenoch’s sister, Jessica, brings the boys in contact with Luisa Cortés (Maribel Verdú), the wife of Tenoch’s cousin Jano. Luisa recently moved to Mexico City from her native Madrid, and her European sophistication quickly arouses the boys’ interest. They try to kindle hers by inviting her to join them on a hastily fabricated road trip to a made-up beach, Heaven’s Mouth. Recognizing Heaven’s Mouth as a MacGuffin, Luisa initially rebuffs their advances, but after her doctor delivers some upsetting test results and her husband announces that he slept with another woman, she decides to accompany the boys on their mythic vacation.

… where the boys first meet Luisa (Maribel Verdú). The scene ends with a return to the bodyguards and drivers, waiting in the parking lot for the party to likewise end. Thus Y tu and its narrator frame Tenoch and Julio’s story in a story about the Mexican working class, while also using their story as a frame tale to explore their exploitation.
As Luisa receives her medical exam results, the camera lingers outside the office door, a distancing conceit employed many time throughout the film that bolsters its pseudo-cinema verité effect. Soon after Luisa calls Tenoch to accept the boys’ invitation to Heaven’s Mouth. During the call, the camera follows ... ... Tenoch’s nanny, Leo (Liboria Rodríguez), through his palatial house as she brings him a grilled cheese sandwich. The ringing phone is the only commentary on her labor, but when she answers it for Tenoch (on the eighth ring), it's a sad critique of how working class Mexico facilitates the life of its elite.

The names of these three travelers hint at the national allegory at work in Y tu mamá también. For although Cuarón’s movie loosens the rigid identifications that typically structure allegory, the script nonetheless uses fiction to invoke Mexican history and thereby reject contemporary political corruption and economic exploitation. Thus the names carry important historical resonances:

  • Tenoch Iturbide recalls both the Aztec city Tenochtitlán upon which Mexico City was built and Augustín de Iturbide, the leader of Mexico’s War of Independence (1810-1821).
  • Luisa Cortés is named for the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés.
  • Julio Zapata invokes the Revolutionary insurgent Emiliano Zapata.
Augustín de Iturbide (Petronilo Monroy, 1865). Emiliano Zapata (artist unknown).

Each character’s name comments on his or her colonial and class status in the film's fiction while simultaneously reminding the viewer of Mexico’s enduring struggle for national unity. Their names recall both Mexico’s colonial history and its history of insurrection. In this way, the script encourages us to regard Y tu as a new sort of national mythmaking in which the legendary figures of Mexico’s political past reassemble so we can reexamine their influence on the country’s current economic stratification and political strife.

  • The film invests Iturbide with the name of the Aztec leader who founded Tenochtitlán, a juxtaposition that foregrounds the complicated relationship between colonization and conquest in Mexico’s history, since Iturbide both freed Mexico from the Spanish rule established by Cortés in 1519 and later became a despot in his own right.
  • Luisa embodies a similar paradox as Cortés’ namesake, inhabiting the roles of both the Spanish conquistador and La malinche, his interpreter and mistress, who is understood in contemporary Mexican culture as a traitor, victim, and national mother figure. Luisa inhabits all of these conflicting connotations as she both conquers the boys through her sexual appeal and simultaneously creates possibilities for a new mestizaje.[5]
  • Finally, Julio Zapata adds a leading figure of the Mexican Revolution whose name was taken up by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in Chiapas, Mexico in 1983. While Julio himself is hardly a revolutionary, his sister is a radical activist and political science student who (we are told) only lends Julio the family car for his road trip so that she can later use it to deliver supplies to the Zapatistas. Julio’s name thus affirms the significance of the Zapatistas in Mexican political history and recontextualizes the rural poverty that frames the trio’s allegorical assignations.

Another major strategy by which the film scripts political commentary is through the comments of an anonymous voice-over narrator. Political backstories and other information of this sort often enter Y tu through this voice-over narration, which is supplied by an unusually assertive non-diegetic narrator. This narrator, who is never named and never appears in the film, seems to follow Julio and Tenoch’s road trip as an organizing narrative structure, almost a frame tale, through which he can investigate the political and economic context that makes their trip possible. That investigation often pulls the narrator’s—and thus our—attention away from Tenoch and Julio into what María Saldaña-Portillo calls the film’s “interstitial scenes,” moments when the camera and audio track temporarily abandon Julio and Tenoch to pursue other interests (769). Specifically, the camera pans or tracks away from the boys to examine the other lives and socio-economic experiences that the boys pass by. Thus at one point the camera turns from Tenoch and Julio’s car to examine a pair of roadside crosses they fail to notice. As he does during all his looks away, the narrator mutes all diegetic noise during his ensuing commentary. In this instance, he explains how ten years earlier a chicken farmer and his child died in an auto accident at this spot, thus offering an understanding of the highway, its uses, and its dangers very different from the boys’.

... the camera leaves her story to find out more about the restaurant where she is eating. The narrator repeatedly foregrounds, and sometimes mutes the diegesis to comment on, other experiences of the highway besides pleasure trips.
The narrator commandeers the windshield to cite a traffic fatality the boys know nothing about. Another cross the trio do not notice; they’re busy agreeing to Luisa’s manifesto.

Critics have tended to read the narrator’s asides as opposed to the movie’s narrative, as critiques of the boys’ solipsism and the solipsism of narrative in general. But in fact the narrator's comments highlight the boys’ obliviousness to their surroundings as they brag to Luisa about their indomitable friendship, fraternal manifesto, and drug use. [6]

Ernesto “Che” Guevara watches Tenoch and Julio prod Saba for directions to a “Heaven’s Mouth.” Che's poster in this scene could speak either to the commodification of his image or the political commitment of the film’s production design. The film uses the boys’ fear of drug busts to document the presence of the Mexican army in the lives of its country’s citizens.

Luisa likewise appears naively disengaged from the poverty they pass as she informs Julio and Tenoch about her life in Spain and advises them on sexual techniques. When Luisa suggests that the boys experiment with anal stimulation, however, they are so shocked that the car’s radiator symbolically explodes. This mechanical failure and the sexual rupture it represents mark a change in the nature of the journey, and shortly thereafter, Luisa takes Tenoch to bed. After Julio walks in on their awkward union, he jealously informs Tenoch that he once slept with Ana, Tenoch’s girlfriend. This sexual rivalry deeply threatens the boys’ friendship, in part because their mutual insults quickly become class-based. However, when Luisa observes their hostility the next day, she blames herself and decides to seduce Julio to even their score. Tenoch responds by telling Julio that he also had sex with Julio’s girlfriend, Ceci, and in the ensuing fight, the boys become so violent and immature that Luisa abandons their trip. When they beg her for another chance, she acquiesces only on the condition that they follow her manifesto from now on, which includes a provision that she will no longer sleep with either of them, although they are free “to screw each other if [they] like.”

Borrowing shampoo for Julio leads to Tenoch and Luisa’s first sexual encounter. Immediately after, the boys go swimming, transposing their issues with “lasting” beneath the water.
Only the viewer knows that the tensions between Tenoch and Julio come from the latter’s dalliance with the former’s girlfriend. Luisa blames herself. Like Tenoch, the viewer of the R-rated Y tu also wants to see more of Julio and Luisa's love scene.
When the boys’ insults turn violent, Luisa points out their fraternal hypocrisy and abandons their vacation. “You’re free to screw each other if you like!”

Luisa’s caveat soon becomes the film’s climax. After the boys miraculously manage to find a beach like the one they described (Fig. 34 and 35), the trio are discovered in their idyll by a local fisherman and his wife, Chuy and Mabel, who offer to take the friends on a tour of the local coves, including one called Heaven’s Mouth (Fig. 37 and 38). The beach tour ends in pandemonium after a pack of stray pigs destroys the travelers’ campsite, so they decide to rent a room from Chuy and Mabel and celebrate the success of their trip with tequila shots at a local cantina. There they toast Jano, the clitoris, and Tenoch’s mother before Julio and Tenoch join Luisa in a bar dance that quickly leads to the bedroom and the beginnings of a ménage-a-trois.

Heaven’s Mouth. Chuy (Silverio Palacios).
Chuy and Mabel (Mayra Serbulo), an indigenous fisherman and his wife, arrive to take the travelers on a tour of local coves and then to the bar where they will consummate their voyage. At Heaven’s Mouth, Chuy, Julio, and Tenoch play soccer together in a homosocial scene devoid of class markings.
As the travelers return to the campsite, the narrator announces that next year Chuy will be forced out of his ancestral fishing waters by an transnational hotel chain. In one of its most beautiful double-image shots, Y tu watches Luisa say goodbye to Jano through a phone booth window while another window reflects Tenoch and Julio playing foosball, oblivious to her tragedies that motivated her to accompany them on this trip.
The travelers toast Jano, the clitoris, and Mexico. During her seductive bar dance, Luisa makes direct eye contact with the viewer, acknowledging her voyeuristic involvement in the mestizaje to come.

What happens next depends on which edition of the movie you see. If you have the R-rated version, then the ménage-a-trois culminates with Luisa in her underwear sitting back on Julio’s lap while Tenoch gropes for hers. If you watch the unrated Y tu, however, then Tenoch’s hand gets to reach its destination, and Luisa pulls Julio up with her until all three lovers are standing together. The boys then remove Luisa’s panties, after which she pulls off their pants and gradually descends below the bottom of the frame, presumably to either fellate or manually stimulate the boys. Julio and Tenoch now appear alone together, and as they turn towards each other, they slowly begin what becomes a passionate embrace. From there, the movie cuts abruptly to the next morning, to shots of Chuy working on his boat and Mabel and Luisa discussing beaches over breakfast. Only then does the camera return to the bedroom, where it finds Tenoch and Julio passed out naked together, although they each quickly bolt from their bed to vomit and find some “hair of the dog,” respectively. Both boys then insist that they must return to Mexico City as soon as possible, although Luisa chooses to stay in San Bernabé and explore more beaches.

In the unrated Y tu, the scene ends with a suggestive kiss just between Tenoch and Julio. It then immediately cuts to Chuy working on his boat …
... and Luisa and Mabel feeding the children in the kitchen … ... before returning to the lovers’ bedroom.

This morning-after scene carries very different implications depending on which wild night your copy of Y tu contains. To be more precise, the scene’s very plausibility hinges on what sort sexual shenanigans the movie is allowed to imply. The R-rated Y tu can only code Julio and Tenoch’s reactions as overreactions to some mild sexual experimentation. The boys already “shared” Luisa in one sense, so their mutual rapid departure feels unnecessary and under-motivated, and the concluding dissolution of their friendship seems almost nonsensical. For as the narrator reports, after Tenoch and Julio leave Luisa in San Bernabé, they cease to be intimates (emotionally, let alone sexually) and eventually lose touch entirely:

"After returning from Europe, Cecelia and Ana broke up with Tenoch and Julio. Two months later, Tenoch started dating his neighbor. Nine months later, Julio started dating a girl from his French class. Julio and Tenoch stopped seeing each other."

"The following summer, the ruling party lost the presidential election for the first time in seventy-one years. Julio ran into Tenoch on his way to the dentist. Going for a cup of coffee was easier than making excuses to avoid it."

Over coffee, the boys catch up on the lives of their friends Saba and Daniel and their respective college plans: Julio will study biology at a local community college, while Tenoch will pursue economics at the university. When these topics wear thin, Tenoch asks Julio,

“Did you hear about Luisa?”

Evidently Luisa died one month after they left her in San Bernabé from a cancer that had spread throughout her body. Tenoch explains that Luisa knew about the illness before their trip, and his revelation allows us to appreciate retroactively the significance of her medical test results. While we process these additions to her character, the narrator takes over Luisa’s story and provides details Tenoch cannot, describing her last days and bequeathements. He ends by observing,

“Tenoch excused himself. His girlfriend was waiting for him at the movies. Julio insisted on paying the check. They will never meet again.”

We are given no explanation for the finality of this decree, for the fatality of a friendship that initially seemed so joyous and invulnerable. Their ménage-a-trois alone cannot justify this termination, because the boys laughed about sleeping with each other’s girlfriends that very night.[7] They even drank to being “milk brothers,” so it seems inconceivable that sharing one woman could end their association.

Indeed, the unrated Y tu confirms that it was not a ménage-a-trois that ruined the boys’ friendship, because it uses the formal limits on depictions of sexuality established by the Hays Code to imply that their erotic experiences did not stop there.[8] The unrated group grope ends with the boys alone on screen and later cuts to them alone in bed the next morning, a tried and true cinematic conceit to suggest that the boys had sex together, not with Luisa. Furthermore, the gendered iconography the film rehearses before discovering them in bed confirms their union even if the movie declines to show it.

As I mentioned earlier, the morning-after scene opens with Chuy engaged in the manly work of fixing his boat’s engine while Luisa and Mabel make breakfast, chat about the beaches, and feed the children. When the camera finally turns to Tenoch and Julio, they are removed from both the masculine scene of labor and the feminine scene of domestic production. They occupy a third space outside of the heterosexual order, that of lovers lolling in bed. Because Luisa is already part of the kitchen scene and not hung-over with Tenoch and Julio, she is not coded as part of the previous evening’s sexual shenanigans. She was not part of the final kiss, and she was not in bed the next morning; she simply was not there. In this context, the boys’ panicked departure and subsequent alienation from each other become tragic but comprehensible examples of internalized homophobia. Without the mediation of a woman, the milk brothers must face their desire for one another’s “vanilla,” as they so crudely put it, and they cannot. Indeed, they literally cannot face each other. When they subsequently meet for coffee, Julio sprawls sideways on his banquette while Tenoch sits at the table. As their conversation turns to Luisa’s death, i.e. the loss of the final mediation between them, the camera breaks from the customary two-shot with which it typically frames the boys and into a shot-reverse-shot pattern that emphasizes their new distance. “They will never meet again,” because without Luisa or the girlfriends they shared, they have no artificial bridge to cover their real connection.

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