Realism and National Identity in Y tu Mamá También: the Audience Perspective
When referring to cinema and its emancipatory potential, realism, like Plato’s ‘pharmakon’ has signified both illness and cure, poison and medicine. On the one hand, realism is regarded as the main feature of so-called classical Hollywood cinema, inherently conservative and thoroughly ideological, its main raison d’etre being to reify and make believable a particular version of the status quo and to pass it out as ‘reality’. On the other, realism has also been interpreted as a quest for truth and social justice, as in the positivist ethos that informs documentary. Even in the latter sense however, the extent to which realism served colonising ends when used to investigate the ‘truth’ of the Other has also been noted, rendering the form profoundly suspicious. For realism has been a Western form of representation, one that can be traced back to the invention of perspective in painting and that peaked with the secular worldview brought about by the Enlightenment. And like realism, the nation state too is a product of the Enlightenment, nationalism being, as it were, a secular replacement for the religious —i.e. enchanted or fantastic— worldview. In this way, realism, cinema and nation are inextricably linked, and equally strained under the current decline of the Enlightenment paradigm. This paper looks at “Y tu Mamá También” by Alfonso Cuarón, a highly successful road movie with documentary features, to explore the ways in which realism, cinema and nation interact with each other in the present conditions of ‘globalisation’ as experienced in Mexico. The paper compares and contrasts various interpretations of the role of realism in this film put forward by critics and scholars with actual ways of audience engagement with it. It is the report of a work in progress.