Friday, November 28, 2008

Sólo con tu pareja (1991)

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Country: Mexico

Filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón last wowed audiences with 2006's visually impressive Children of Men. Before that, he filled out his filmography with a diverse selection of projects, including A Little Princess, Great Expectations, Y tu mamá también and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (which is, for my money, the best-made film in the franchise). His first film, Sólo con tu pareja (Love in the Time of Hysteria), is a hidden gem; a well-crafted sex comedy which showcases the talent that would unfurl into one of the most impressive directors to come out of Mexico in recent years (Cuarón is joined by his friends Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro as the most well-known figures of this group).

Cuarón, with the help of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, sets his story in a cool, green-tinted contemporary Mexico. The "hero" is Tomás Tomás, writer for an advertising agency, charming bastard and modern day Don Juan. He is played by Daniel Giménez Cacho with all the shameless charisma to be expected from a character like this (one could perhaps think of him as a Spanish, less repugnant Tucker Max). The film chronicles a series of his amorous adventures and, just maybe, a major turning point for Tomás.

Despite its sometimes grim content (including an AIDS-related scare and plenty of suicide threats), there is never a moment when you forget you're watching a comedy - and a damned funny one at that. The film was written by Cuarón and his brother, Carlos Cuarón, who make sure the humor gains momentum in the right places and never lets up for too long, and they craft some absolutely priceless and zany situations that Tomás continually gets himself into. Perhaps the best one uses the classic setup in which the protagonist must be in two places at once, forcing Tomás to shuffle from one apartment to another on a precariously small ledge outside his apartment building. While doing this, juggling two women at the same time, he suddenly lays eyes on yet another one through a window - the stunning airline stewardess Clarisa (Claudia Ramírez). From that point onwards, Tomás declares himself a changed man; one who (according to him, whatever that's worth) is feeling true love for the first time. His awkward meetings with and attempts to win over Clarisa are further complicated by a former lover's (Dobrina Liubomirova) plan to exact a little payback. The film's English title is indeed an apt one, as Tomás consequently becomes consumed with hysteria-laced despair, setting in motion yet another chain of hilarious events throughout the film's final act.

Sólo con tu pareja is chock full of several entertaining ingredients that help make it such an engaging film. Tomás' best friend, a doctor by the name of Mateo Mateos (Luis de Icaza), provides plenty of comedic padding and shares many great small scenes with Tomás. A few times in the film, Tomás engages in a morning ritual that seems to reinforce his hare-brained egocentricity: a sprint down to his apartment's ground floor to fetch the paper - clad only in a pair of green running shoes. At moments when he seems most frustrated or desperate, he obsessively arranges little cone-shaped paper cups around his apartment. It is a delight to behold a character so fully fleshed out and bearing all these behavioral quirks, and it is a tribute to Cacho's acting talent and the Cuaróns' strong writing that Tomás is, in spite of his chauvinistic habits, so damned likeable. To top it off, Cuarón uses the music of Mozart to set just the right tone for his film, providing a calm and often poetic effect to balance the chaotic proceedings.

This one was another of those films that I was meaning to see for the longest time, but simply couldn't for one reason or another. I was thrilled when it became the next film in my Zip (the Canadian equivalent to Netflix) account to be sent to me, and after finally seeing it, I decided it was well worth both the wait and a mention on this site. I heartily recommend it and can't wait to add it to my DVD library.

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