Exploring Death, Politics, and Homosexuality in Films I Watched at 14

I distinctly remember being in the eighth grade and staying up late to watch movies on my phone on Netflix in bed and there are two movies, in particular, I recall viewing in that exact position: Frida (2002) and Y Tu Mamá También (2001). These two films were recently brought to my attention again, so I decided to rewatch both films and see how my opinion of each film changed in the subsequent four years since I first viewed them, especially after noticing how much each film had in common. With that, I was able to reflect on how younger me reacted to the themes of each film, specifically politics, sex, and death, and explore how I felt the second time around.

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One of the most notable features the films have in common is their predominant setting: Mexico. Frida follows the life of famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and her marriage to fellow painter Diego Rivera, while Y Tu Mamá También narrates the life of two young men in Mexico, Tenoch and Julio, and a road trip they take with older woman Luisa, a family friend. However, Mexico is not simply a backdrop in both films, but rather a living, intrinsic essence that breathes into the story. Frida Kahlo’s culture meant a great deal to her, as seen through her insistence of having an exhibit of her work in her own country. She repeatedly shows her appreciation and love for Mexico, and one painting, in particular, is shown in the film to depict her urge to return home from New York.

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My Dress Hangs There, 1933. Frida Kahlo

Y Tu Mamá También captures multiple perspectives of the Mexican experience through both its characters and setting. Tenoch, the son of a wealthy man, represents the upper class and Julio juxtaposes this, representing the middle class. This classification comes to a head when Tenoch and Julio, engaged in a heated argument, refer to each other by class slurs. Tenoch mocks Julio by calling him the Spanish equivalent of the word “hillbilly,” and Julio counters by insulting Julio with the Spanish equivalent of the word “yuppie.” Class is also explored in the film as the road trip progresses. As Julio, Tenoch, and Luisa further immerse themselves into the countryside of Mexico, they become more vulnerable (more on this later.) However, once the two boys return to the city, they become distant, cold and cogs in the machine.  The distinction between the classes is also a theme explored in Frida, despite the film taking place fifty/sixty years prior. Frida’s husband Diego Rivera is a communist and earns a living by painting for the rich, validating his actions by incorporating communist advocacy in his work. In one scene, Diego’s peer dismisses this claim, asserting that Diego is simply being hired by the rich to “assuage their sense of guilt.” It is one of many scenes in the film that discusses politics, seeing as politics played a tremendous role in Kahlo’s life. The political tones in Y Tu Mamá También are discussed much more subtly, appearing most often through the narration in the film, which reveals facts such as Julio’s sister’s radical political involvement and hints to the political climate at this time in Mexico.

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Another theme each film discusses is death and the acceptance of it. **spoilers ahead** The last shot of the film Frida is a quote by Kahlo that appears on the screen shortly before one of Kahlo’s painting depicts her catching fire. The quote reads:

“I hope the exit is joyful and I hope never to return.” 

Kahlo seemed to confront death, never seeing painting as a desperate grasp to be remembered, but rather as a passion to help cope and understand life’s circumstances. In the film, Kahlo demands her body be burned when she dies as it was nothing but a prison her entire life and failed her time and time again, whether it be through miscarriages or gangrene. Similarly, Y Tu Mamá También features Luisa, a character who faces death in the film and shares Kahlo’s acceptance of the circumstance.

 

It is revealed at the end of the film that Luisa had been diagnosed with cancer and it had spread throughout her body, killing her only one month after her trip with Tenoch and Julio. Earlier in the film, Luisa expresses how much she loves to travel and enjoys the sea, and her last words to Julio and Tenoch were:

“Life is like foam, so give yourself away like the sea.”

Both women accept death and invite it as a natural outcome. Kahlo, in saying that she hopes to never return, acknowledges the pain and difficulty of life, but Luisa, in comparing life to “foam,” acknowledges the fleeting and complex experience of living, and accentuates the importance of living truthfully and honestly, an idea Kahlo often expressed in her confrontational and often painful art. Both women touched my heart in that respect. Their handling of pain and heartbreak (both women are cheated on by their husbands) and their preservation of truth and endurance serve a sense of meaningful motivation.

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Both films are rated R and do not shy away from explicit content. As I mentioned before, I was fourteen when I watched these movies and grew up as a sheltered Christian kid. Needless to say, watching sex so explicitly caught me off guard, especially sex between two people of the same gender. The 2002 film Frida acknowledges Kahlo’s bisexuality and there is one sex-scene between her and a woman. Though at first glance this may seem as positive representation as the film shows Kahlo having sex with both men and women, its presence is questionable, especially when you take into account that Miramax produced the film.. a.k.a the involvement of Harvey Weinstein. Salma Hayek, the actress who played Kahlo in the film, confessed that Weinstein forced her to include a completely nude lesbian sex-scene for the film, and was constantly demanding more sex in general. And yes, there is a lot of sex in Frida. Though Weinstein denies Hayek’s claim, as an audience member you do question the motivation behind the inclusion of so much sex, is it necessary? Or is it just to turn men on? Y Tu Mamá También also includes many sex scenes and more importantly, gay intimacy. However, the way in which it is handled contrasts significantly with that of Frida. When Julio and Tenoch begin to kiss in the midst of a threesome with Luisa, it is a pinnacle moment in their relationship. Their competition, pettiness, and tough facade all deteriorate in this vulnerable moment and it is beautiful. Up until that point, every sex scene in the film is meaningless and committed out of lust. The film’s opening scene is Tenoch and his girlfriend having sex. A few scenes later we see Julio and his girlfriend doing the same, only to find out later in the film the two boys were having sex with each other’s girlfriends the entire time. When both boys individually have sex with Luisa later on in the film, it further reinforces the lack of affection and passion in these sexual exchanges and emphasizes the importance of Tenoch and Julio kissing tenderly at the end of the trip.

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Past Ariana had no idea what either of these films sought to express about heavy subjects such as politics, homosexuality, and death, and present Ariana is sitting here trying to make sense of it all four years later. So, ultimately, my final thoughts are:

  • Learning about a woman who was unapologetic in her culture, politicals, and sexuality means so much more to me now than it could have ever meant then. This upcoming election will be the first one I will be able to vote in and every day I question my beliefs as I grow closer to the day in which I have to commit to them.
  • As someone pursuing art, I too wonder how I will make a living off of a passion and question if it is worth the effort. Watching Tenoch share with an estranged Julio at the end of the film that he succumbed to his dad’s pressure and is an economics major, despite originally expressing his desire to study literature and be a writer, is devasting and only further pushes me to stay true to my passions.
  • Being horrified of death and watching a woman accept it and find freedom within it is inspiring.
  • There is a fine line between gratuitous sex and meaningful sex and both films seem to blur the line, but sometimes sex deserves to be portrayed beautifully.
  • And finally, life is often filled with pain, regret, and confusion, but we must learn to love it, experience it to the fullest, and accept when it is over.

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-Ariana Martinez (A.M.)

I do not own these pictures

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