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The Criterion Collection presents
"This bastard is just a myth."
DVD ReviewDon Juan isn't dead; he's just gone to Mexico and refuses to use a condom. That's kind of the upshot of Sólo con tu pareja, a film which stands just fine on its own merits, but probably garners some additional attention because it's an early feature from Alfonso Cuarón, whose big splash north of the border came a few years later with Y tu mamá también. It's hard not to see this one in light of the later work, to see Cuarón's earlier attempts at themes and styles in relation to their later fruition, but you can also put that all aside and enjoy this film for its carnal and comedic pleasures.
Daniel Giménez Cacho stars as Tomás, a playboy in the middle of a professional crisis and a Feydeaux-like sex farce. He's an ad copy genius of sorts, but he just can't crack the latest campaign, to come up with a tag line to revitalize sales of a line of canned jalapeños; but he's not one to let writer's block keep him from making time with the young women of Mexico City, who are drawn to him like moths to a flame. The setup is the stuff of classic sniggering comedies: Tomás has the apartment to the left; in the center is the fetching yet unavailable Clarisa, who takes her job as a flight attendant deeply seriously; and to the right live Mateo and Teresa, Tomás's physician and his wife. Mateo and Teresa ask Tomás to water the plants and feed the fish while they're out of town for the weekend—he's busy hitting on Silvia, Mateo's nurse, and gets an unexpected visit from Gloria, his boss, who will take some time between the sheets as a substitute for the copy on which he's missed his deadline.
The movie doesn't shy away from frank sexuality; it's the early 1990s, and Tomás relies on his many partners being on the pill rather than buying prophylactics in bulk, for AIDS is still ghettoized to junkies and the gay community at this time, in his mind, at least. (The title of the movie translates as "Only with your partner," and was a tag line for a series of AIDS PSAs in Mexico.) And a lot of this stuff is very funny—not just the bed hopping, but Tomás's relentless fantasies about Clarisa, onto whom he's projected all of his hopes and dreams. Cuarón has a weakness for dream sequences, and he handles them well here—given that and Tomás's hopeless battle with monogamy, it seems as if Fellini is an obvious inspiration, particularly from 8 1/2.
It's also an impeccable film technically, with a sustained control of production design that brims with carnivalesque colors; and the moving camera swirls us right in to Tomás's world. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki deserves high marks—you can see why Terence Malick chose him to shoot The New World.
The movie sort of runs out of gas at some point, and leans on silliness—for instance, much talk is given to a news-of-the-weird newspaper item of a stupid American who killed her dog by trying to dry it off in the microwave, and in his earnest desperation, Tomás makes a suicide attempt by putting his head in his own appliance. (Alas for him in the moment, he can't figure out not being able to close the door.) Cuarón also has a weakness for hiccupy names—his hero is Tomás Tomás, whose doctor is Mateo Mateos, whose nurse is Silvia Silva, and so on. Similarly, Tomás's bit of domestic daring is going to fetch the newspaper in the buff; maybe it's funny once, but the filmmakers go to the well a couple of times too often with this one. But all in it's just over an hour and a half, and enough of it is clever and technically accomplished that the movie never overstays its welcome.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: A very strong transfer, reproducing Lubezki's controlled palette with delicacy and nuance. You'll see almost no visual interference; it seems as if the source material has been well maintained over the past fifteen years, and that Criterion has transferred it with lovely precision.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: A clean transfer on the audio as well, though my high-school Spanish is pathetic, and I will cop to concentrating almost exclusively on the subtitles.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Two short films bookend the feature nicely. Alfonso Cuarón's Quartet for the End of Time (23m:45s), made in 1983 in black and white, is the story of a man and his box turtle—our hero does battle with the ennui of life, but he's resolutely a loner, and comes across as a sort of feel-good, violence-free Travis Bickle. Carlos Cuarón's Wedding Night (05m:03s) is from 2000, and is in the same vein of sex farce as the feature, finding slapstick comedy in anxious grooms carrying their brides across the threshold. This one also includes brief notes from its director.
The accompanying booklet includes an essay on the director by Ryan F. Long, and a character sketch for Tomás by Carlos Cuarón, a great chance to see how a screenwriter thinks about his hero's backstory.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsYou can read this as a cautionary tale about HIV and the dangers of intimacy, or as an early work anticipating later, more renowned pictures of its director; but you'll probably have a better time taking this on its own terms, and as a sex farce about a Lothario on the run in all kinds of ways, it delivers the goods. The transfer is an especially good one, and the extras provide just enough kick and context.
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