Released in 2001, it's easy to see why this road movie stands out as a classic. It organically delves into heavy issues such as sexuality, maturity, relationships, politics and death. With Cuaron's new movie, Gravity, hitting theaters this weekend, I felt it was the ideal time to finally catch up with this movie.
Without spoiling much, the film tells the story of two young best friends (Julio and Tenoch) who convince an older, attractive woman to road trip with them to a gorgeous beach that does not exist. The girlfriends of the two boys are vacationing abroad while the woman is struggling her own romantic status and internal problems. During their adventure, they open up about their ideas on sex, leading to the revelation of each person's secrets and bonding them in a profound way.
The cinematic style is as free and open to possibilities as the three characters are. The camera moves anywhere it pleases, boundless and wandering, like the group searching for "Heaven's Mouth", an imaginary beach. For example, when in Luisa's apartment, viewers exist in the room with her as she leaves and joins the boys. Almost like a ghost spectator, we see her answer the phone and grab her bags then we steadicam over the kitchen wall containing all the pictures and memories of her and Jano, Luisa's fiance. Finally the long take ends with a shot framed through the window and down at the street where she is received by them. The omnipresence of the camera is seemingly from the POV of a voyeuristic human.
Other shots like this involve actual scenes on the road. As the embark on their journey, the camera will often shoot at three friends from outside of the car from the side, then pull ahead or fall back to shoot from in front of or behind their car in a far shot. This way, Cuaron is truly presenting a portrait of Mexico, his home country, with this film. Rather than limiting himself to intercutting close ups of each character within the vehicle, the auteur contextualizes the story and prioritizes the landscape, the political turmoil, and the country people, even if those interactions are brief.
The sound from these car scenes never pull away from the conversation of the three main characters, even when we see them in a distance. This allows their personal growth to be connected with their environment as we visually are presented with Mexico, but audibly receiving Julio, Tenoch, and Luisa's dialogue. Their discussions about sex and relationships go from embellished stories to truthful enlightenments by the end.
After the characters reach a new sense of honesty with each other and themselves, the movie climaxes with its infamous jukebox scene.
Their open (and drunk) dialogue about each other's lies and deceitful behavior takes a humorously honest turn as we, the viewers, sit at the table with them. The camera then rises and follows Luisa to the jukebox and back in one long take. She realizes that the relationship between the characters has reached a new level and that she has accepted her personal fate. So she decides to celebrate that. Luisa puts on a song and seductively dances back to the group. As she does this, she stares directly into the camera, dancing with us first. In this shot, Cuaron blatantly reveals that we, too, are characters in the film and have endured the journey and reached the same open mindset, hopefully. As we dance with the group, the film transitions into its final and most sexually freeing scene. By the conclusion, Cuaron hopes to have left a mark on us, as Luisa did with the boys, and helps us question our own thoughts on sexuality, maturity, relationships, politics and death.
*Update* I have since watched Gravity, Cuaron's newest film, and it's a masterpiece that will influence future space and 3D movies. Yes, watch it in 3D. Cuaron has said that the movie will lose 20% of its impact if watched in 2D. So please go view this in the best theater possible because it truly is experiential.