Mamá Said Cut It Out

A kiss is not just a kiss: Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal in 'Y Tu Mamá También'
IFC Films

During the climatological and cinematic freeze-out otherwise known as February, Midwestern movie-lovers may find themselves scouring their local video stores for the 2002 gems they missed on the big screen. But be warned: If you rent a sizzling movie at Blockbuster Video, the tape or DVD might leave you cold.

Y Tu Mamá También, a road-trip romp that landed on many critics' Top 10 lists, explores teen friendship and sexuality in a Mexico of divided cultures and classes. Before the release of Y Tu Mamá in the U.S. last April, Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón (who's taking the third Harry Potter epic into production later this year) failed to win his battle with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to secure an R rating for the film. Fortunately, the movie's distributor, IFC Films, agreed to send Y Tu Mamá to theaters unrated and uncensored.

Late in 2002, however, a home-video edition appeared on Blockbuster's shelves with an R rating, and with five minutes missing from the 105-minute theatrical version. Among the edited sex scenes was the climax--running about 15 seconds--in which two teenage male friends tenderly kiss during a ménage à trois with an older Spanish woman. In interviews, Cuarón acknowledged that he had originally used MPAA guidelines to edit a 100-minute version for an R rating--and, indeed, the current R-rated version on DVD and VHS happens to be exactly 100 minutes. Would Cuarón butcher the most precious moment of his film just to receive the MPAA's blessing and thus greater video distribution with retailers such as Blockbuster?

Alongside the curious politics of the MPAA, Blockbuster's ratings policy has long caused controversy (even film centrist Roger Ebert has regularly expressed his ire) for further isolating independent filmmakers, who don't always receive MPAA ratings, and for favoring gratuitous violence over mild sexual content.

"It is not our position to edit or dictate the content of the film," says Blockbuster spokesperson Liz Green. "We rely on the MPAA to determine what we want to sell, and we will not carry anything above a R rating, such as NC-17. With unrated films [like Y Tu Mamá], we make decisions based on our customers' expectations."

To the company's credit, Blockbuster carries both the R-rated and unrated versions of Y Tu También in many of its stores. Green explains that Blockbuster anticipated customer demand for the film's unrated version given the popularity of its theatrical run. But if customer tastes in certain areas were deemed otherwise, the stores in those areas were required to carry only the R-rated version.

When asked about the reasoning behind the cut scenes, Green defers to the MPAA and the film's distributors. IFC Films also refuses to comment on the cuts, and defers to the film's home-video distributor, MGM/UA Home Entertainment.

To be fair, some of the edited content, such as a few revealing sex scenes with thrusts included, is of the sort that has regularly fallen under the MPAA's knife. Yet given that the R-rated version still features frontal male nudity and masturbation, the removal of a single kiss appears at once absurd and homophobic.

An MGM/UA spokesperson who wished to go unnamed explains that if a film is unrated before release on home video, major distributors must first submit an edited version to the MPAA. After MPAA board members vote on a rating, they may also make suggestions as to how the film can receive a lower rating if resubmitted. The spokesperson goes on to say that MGM/UA will sometimes seek a director's collaboration or approval to edit certain scenes, though it's not essential. "And even if I could find out whether we received director approval for Y Tu Mamá También, and who made the cuts," says the spokesperson, "I don't think I could tell you." The spokesperson also suggests that the cutting of the kiss may have had less to do with concerns over homoeroticism than those having to do with the young ages of the two actors involved.

Regardless of who made the decision and why, the kiss that dare not show itself reflects another Hollywood trend: Lesbian sex scenes between buxom beauties, à la Frida or Mulholland Drive, are acceptable, even fashionable, while a smooch between male buddies is forced to hit the road.

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