Dir: Alfonso Cuaron. Mexico. 2001. 105 mins.

After working successfully for a decade in the US, Alfonso Cuaron returns briefly to his homeland, abandoning the highly crafted look of his two Hollywood studio features, A Little Princess and Great Expectations, to make a vibrant, gritty road movie which is also a subtle portrait of modern Mexico. Following a bitter fight with the local censorship board over the copious sex scenes, which earned it the equivalent of an '18' rating, And Your Mother Too has been a record-breaking hit domestically, where it was released in early June.

Handled by IFC in North America and by 20th Century Fox in a number of other territories, the film might benefit from a different title in some markets but should have no trouble drawing audiences worldwide on the strength of its erotic content, lively humour and performances and Cuaron's reputation. It was favourably received by international critics in Venice, where it won the Best Screenplay award and its two young male stars jointly took the Marcello Mastroianni prize for best newcomers.

The film begins as it intends to continue, with an explicit and robustly comic love-making scene between 17-year-old Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and his girlfriend, who's about to leave on a European trip. Although Julio himself comes from a lower middle-class family, his best friend Tenoch (Diego Luno) moves in exalted circles: his father is a wealthy high-ranking politician with the ruling Nationalist party. The two lads, however, are as apolitical as most 17-year-olds tend to be, and have drawn up a ten-point manifesto outlining their cynical and hedonist approach to life.

At a society wedding they met and flirt ineptly with Luisa (Maribel Verdu), an unhappily married Spanish beauty in her late twenties, and invite her to a magical (and, they neglect to tell her, strictly imaginary) beach which they lewdly call Heaven's Mouth. The offer is made jokingly, but when Luisa later receives two terrible bits of bad news she decides to take up their offer.

Once on the road, tensions escalate as the boys vie for Luisa's favours and become increasingly conscious of the class differences dividing them: But, when the trio stumble purely by chance on an idyllic beach which seems to be everything they are seeking, the conflicts between them achieve a temporary and unexpected resolution.

Meanwhile an unnamed omniscient narrator provides an ironic voice-over commentary about the boys' parents, their family histories and the political context to their adventure. It soon becomes evident that almost none of this steady stream of detail is directly relevant to the immediate story. But the overall effect is to place their personal drama within a broader canvas. The film's theme is not only the youths' sexual and sentimental education, but also their increasing awareness of a more complex world beyond the experience of growing up.

With its constant glimpses of civil rights protestors, police roadblocks and random violence, and its references to government corruption and the ravages of globalisation, the film creates a general sense of a country in crisis. However Cuaron makes these points in passing, without hammering them home or allowing them to detract from the prevailing mood of light comedy.

The primary appeal of the story lies in the chemistry between the three principals, and the actors' convincing and likeable performances: special credit is due to Verdu for creating a rounded character out of what could have easily remained a male fantasy.

Shot in sequence, the film features some interesting locations and some brilliantly fluid and edgy imagery from Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuaron's long-time director of photography, whose work on this film is in complete and impressive contrast to the stylised sheen he brought to the director's Hollywood pictures.

Prod cos: Anhelo.
Domestic dist: 20th Century Fox.
Int'l Sales: Good Machine.
Exec prods: Sergio Aguero, David Linde, Amy Kaufman.
Prod: Jorge Vergara.
Scr: Alfonso and Carlos Cuaron.
Dop: Emmanuel Lubezki.
Prod des: Miguel Alvarez.
Eds: Alfonso Cuaron, Alex Rodriguez.
Main cast: Maribel Verdu, Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna.