Y Tu Mamá También, “Third Cinema,” and Imagined [Cultural] Communities

Towards the beginning of Y tu mamá también, Tenoch and Julio indulge in one of the most privileged displays of grossness (or gross displays of privilege, you choose) I can imagine: a day at the pool at the country club Tenoch’s father is part-owner of, sans other visitors, rules, or oversight. (And, well, we’ll just leave it at that.) In this scene, as in other early parts of the movie, the class differences between the two characters are not yet evident. Julio can imagine (as do we) that he and Tenoch are equals. But as we shortly see, Tenoch—the wealthy boy whose parents appropriated an indigenous name for him to demonstrate their nationalism—and working-class Julio represent a contestation of inequality rather than an ideal of cultural unity.


Y tu mamá también thus illuminates and complicates the relationship of national imagined communities and “national” cinema. Benedict Anderson’s 1983 Imagined Communities notes that “nation-ness is the most universally legitimate value in the political life of our time” (3), by which he means the 80s and 90s. While Anderson characterizes the nation as fundamentally political, he also notes that “nation-ness, as well as nationalism, are cultural artefacts” (4, my emphasis), a nature that is not explored in the excerpt we read. But it is just as useful, when talking about film, to conceive of “imagined communities” as imagined cultural communities, and nationalism as cultural nationalism, again both limited and sovereign (in an abstract sense). To follow Anderson’s breakdown (nb., the following has absolutely nothing to do with whatever he may say about cultural nationalism in the rest of the book; it is solely my speculation):

  • The imagined cultural community is imagined because, as Anderson writes, its members were largely never know each other (6), and also because it constructs a culture that is supposedly for everyone in that community—for example, in which cabinet ministers’ sons should be given names from the language of an oppressed minority
  • The imagined cultural community is limited because of its finite-but-elastic boundaries, and also because there’s only so far the construct of shared cultural heritage can stretch. Eventually, it thins to the point that appropriation, inequality, and artifice become transparent.[1]
  • The imagined cultural community is sovereign because participation requires buy-in. The rhetoric of shared culture constitutes power. (Also, Foucault.)
  • And as Anderson says, it’s a community because of the ideal of “horizontal comradeship” (7), which is, of course, a window-dressing.


I’d argue that all of these things become evident in YTMT as Julio, Tenoch, and Luisa get further and further from Mexico City and the glass floor of imagined equality they’ve built their friendship on, but in the opposite way from how Hind suggests the provincia usually works. Acting as though they’re traveling into a rural landscape without constraints, the teens are eventually faced with glaring inequalities that contribute to the end of their friendship.[2] But this synthesis is not of YTMT or Hind’s article, so I digress.


So if we accept (if only for a moment) that the above describes somewhat the aims and limitations of cultural nationalism, and that YTMT illuminates its problematic nature, what then are we to make of the film as “national” cinema? Crofts’ second category, the “Third Cinema,” is helpful here. Third Cinema explicitly seeks a non-Hollywood aesthetic and takes an anti-imperialist stance (856), “offer[ing] a particular reconceptualization of national cinema” by revealing “ethnic, gender, class, and regional differences” within the imagined community of the nation (857). The “nation” of Third Cinema is not necessarily Anderson’s imagined community (political and cultural), and may—as YTMT does, at least to some extent—offer some deconstruction of nationalist ideals.


I am uncertain, however, whether YTMT and other films that have “crossed over” from the developing world completely fit the category of Third Cinema. Crofts writes that they do not compete with Hollywood, but do critique it (854). I’m not sure how viable that characterization is for a film that was nominated for an Oscar and made by a director who now regularly crosses into Hollywood blockbuster territory (e.g., The Little Princess, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, Gravity). Cuarón does not lack connections in the American film mainstream. It’s hard to consider his work radical or anti-imperialist in content or context, even when the material pushes the envelope of what’s socially acceptable. Where, then, do we classify films like this that wrestle with some of the issues of the Third Cinema, but are also clearly connected to the American film mainstream (and if not to that, then to the “highbrow” international festival system)? Are they nationalist? National? Critiques of the nation? Or what?



[1] I’m not going to try to defend this point very well here, but I’m sure we can think of many examples, and plenty of folklorists and others have critiqued the notion of world heritage, national heritage, and (my favorite) “intangible cultural heritage” for similar reasons.

[2] My interpretation of YTMT is colored by having previously seen it for a WGSS class and reading it as a contestation of political, social, and masculine power in which Tenoch increasingly treats Julio as his inferior, a dynamic that gets upended somewhat in their sexual encounter. More digression!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *