Thursday, July 28, 2011

Solo Con tu Pareja (Expanded Criterion DVD Review)


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/16/07 w/ Extensive Revisions & Additional Edits.


Before creating masterpieces like Y Tu Mama Tambien and last year's Children of Men along with being part of the Three Amigos gang that included fellow Mexican directors Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro. Alfonso Cuaron, like many Mexican directors before and since, started out working in TV including soap operas while serving as an assistant director for films all over Latin America. Then in 1991, Cuaron would make his very first feature about a playboy who catches the AIDS virus just as he has fallen for a beautiful flight attendant. The film was called Solo con tu Pareja (A Tale of Love & Hysteria).

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron with a script written by his brother Carlos based on their original story, the film is about a yuppie playboy whose life changes by a health report claiming he's got AIDS. The news couldn't have come at a worst time as he was about to give up his lifestyle when he falls for a flight attendant living in his apartment building. With a cast that includes Daniel Giminez Cacho, Claudia Ramirez, Astrid Hadad, and Dobrina Liubomirova. Solo con tu Pareja is a funny, smart, sexy comedy from Alfonso Cuaron and company.

Tomas Tomas (Daniel Giminez Cacho) is an advertising agent that considers himself to be a modern-day Don Juan. From the many women he sleeps with including his boss Gloria (Isabel Benet), he seems to have it all. During a doctor's appointment where his doctor is his friend/neighbor Mateo (Luis de Icaza), he meets the nurse Sylvia (Dobrian Liubromirova) whom he flirts with. When Mateo and is wife Teresa (Astrid Hadad) go out of town, he borrows Mateo's apartment for two dates where in between the ledges. He catches a glimpse of a beautiful young flight attendant named Clarissa (Claudia Ramirez) who changes his life.

The presence of Clarissa brings trouble to Tomas' womanizing ways as Sylvia is upset that he has more than one lover. Even worse is that Tomas learns that Clarissa is engaged to a pilot named Carlos (Ricard Dalmacci) as his usual routines such as running down the stairs naked to get the newspaper goes wrong. After telling Mateo about Clarissa, Mateo asks him to take a couple of Japanese tourists (Toshiro Hisaki and Carlos Nakasone) around the city. The next morning, Tomas learns from a lover (Claudia Fernandez) about a health report claiming he's got AIDS. Devastated, he tries to reach Mateo, who is at a conference with his wife and co-workers, only to become suicidal.

During his suicide attempt, Clarissa finds Tomas in his apartment where she is troubled by some awful news of her own. With the two deciding to go kill themselves at the Latin American tower, Mateo receives Tomas' message while learning what really happened as he and his entourage try to save them.

Given the circumstances that AIDS had become a very serious issue during the early 1990s, the fact that the film is an AIDS comedy is pretty radical in its subject matter. Particularly to people who might feel sensitive about the issue at a time when AIDS couldn't be funny. To Alfonso Cuaron and his younger brother Carlos, the film isn't about AIDS but rather about a man whose own lifestyle gets the best of him. Even as he starts to question it himself after falling for a flight attendant in the middle of his own philandering. The film's plot is simple yet told in a very funny way with the humor being spot-on through the misadventures of Tomas' life. Even some of the dialogue and events that drive the plot is well-written by the Cuaron brothers.

Then there's Alfonso Cuaron's direction which is just as enigmatic and stylized that would define his work in the years to come. The film, like his 2001 masterpiece Y Tu Mama Tambien opens with a couple having sex to illustrate the story. Unlike that film, Solo con tu Pareja's approach to sex isn't as explicit where it's done with great humor. Even the scenes of Tomas running down the stairs and back up to get the paper is one of the most memorable moments. Then there's the scenes involving suicide where it's also done in great humor like in Hal Ashby's classic film Harold & Maude (whose Mexican film poster makes a cameo in Y Tu Mama Tambien). Yet, Cuaron's direction with its stylish camera work, scene compositions, and shots of Mexico City is breathtaking. While it's not perfect, it shows of what was to come from this great director.

Helping Cuaron in his imagery is a longtime collaborator Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki. Serving as a cinematographer for every film Cuaron did (minus Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban), Lubezki's colorful imagery in the film's interior scenes are breathtaking with its use of green colors and lights to complement the look of both Tomas' spacious apartment and the naturalistic tone of Mateo's apartment. Lubezki's cinematography along with additional camera work by another fellow Mexican cinematographer in Rodrigo Prieto (serving as a second-unit director & second-unit photography) is just amazing including a lot of the exterior settings for Mexico City including the aerial shots.

Production designer Brigitte Broch (the longtime production designer for fellow Mexican auteur, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) helps create the film's unique imagery with the greenish-look of the apartment building that Tomas lives while the home of Mateo is filled with plants, a fish tank, and everything that looks earthy. Costume designer Maria Estela Fernandez does some excellent work in the film's costume weather it's the designer-dress that Sylvia wore on her date to the flight-attendant uniform that Clarissa wears. Alfonso Cuaron and editor Luis Patlan do some excellent work in the film's editing whether it was doing some slow-motion cuts to convey an emotion or jump-cuts in some of the film's car sequences. Sound editor Rene Ruiz Ceron does some excellent work in recreating the sound of airplanes to convey the atmosphere that Tomas is being drawn to in relation to Clarissa.

The film's soundtrack featuring an original score by Carlos Warman with some traditional, Mexican-folk music is often filled with mariachi songs and most of all, classical music. The classical cuts featuring the works of Mozart and Francois Couperin are excellent to convey the dream-like feel of the film as well as a theme for the presence of Clarissa to Tomas. The classical stuff played on the film is memorable and enchanting.

The film's cast features some notable small performances from Luz Maria Jerez & Claudia Fernandez as two of Tomas' lovers, Ricardo Dalmacci as Clarissa's boyfriend Carlos, and the duo of Toshiro Hisaki & Carlos Nakasone as the Japanese tourists. Isabel Benet is good as Tomas' boss Gloria as is Dobrina Liubomirova as the sexy Sylvia who are both disappointed with his love-making skills after hearing so much about him. Astrid Hadad is excellent as Mateo's wife Teresa, who was the first person who suggest Tomas to take an interest in Clarissa before he even met her. Luis de Icaza is also excellent as Mateo, the doctor who tries to warn Tomas about his philandering and the trouble it would lead him.

Claudia Ramirez makes a wonderful impression as Clarissa. Ramirez's sensual innocence is really intoxicating as she brings a beauty to the film as a woman who has it all until an event that shakes her innocence completely. Ramirez definitely sells her despair as she and Cacho have great chemistry. Daniel Giminez Cacho is brilliant in his role as the philandering Tomas. Cacho is great in the way he does comedy and drama by being this very flawed individual with a very dangerous lifestyle. When he starts to make a change, his character becomes sympathetic but also performed in a funny way that he's a character that's enjoyable. Cacho, who is famous for his work in Pedro Almodovar's La Mala Educacion and being the narrator in Y Tu Mama Tambien, gives a phenomenal performance.

***Additional DVD Content Written from 7/25/11-7/27/11***

The 2006 Region 1 DVD from the Criterion Collection presents the film in its original 1:78:1 theatrical aspect ratio for its widescreen format and improved subtitles for the film. The film is also restored and remastered in a new digital transfer under the supervision of the film’s cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki with approval by its director Alfonso Cuaron. The look of the film is truly more gorgeous than it has ever been along with a remixed sound for its DVD release.

Among the special features presented for this DVD includes a 30-minute making-of documentary featuring new interviews with Alfonso Cuaron, screenwriter Carlos Cuaron, and actor Daniel Giminez Cacho. The featurette has the Cuaron brothers talking about their own childhood, a brief history of Mexican cinema and the show Hora Marcada where they also worked with future cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and fellow filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. The brothers also talked about the inspiration for Solo con tu Pareja that was due to a lot of things happening Mexico as well as the macho attitude towards AIDS at the time. They were also inspired by the films of Ernst Lubitsch and Blake Edwards that helped them make the film into a comedy of sorts.

Daniel Giminez Cacho talks about being cast as he knew that Cuaron was going against the traditional idea of casting by just simply getting unknowns including theater actors, singers, or TV actors. Particularly as it was to give the film a realistic feel while Cacho got help in doing comedy from his co-star Luis De Icaza. For the look of the film, Alfonso wanted a heightened look to add a style to the film that was helped by Lubezki as they wanted Mexico City to be a character of its own. For the impact on the film’s release, it wasn’t an initial success as the critical reaction at the time wasn’t very good. Yet, it attracted an audience that was looking for something new. The overall documentary is an excellent piece about the film and its importance as part of New Mexican Cinema of the 1990s and 2000s.

Another big special feature for the DVD are two short films from the Cuaron brothers. The first is Alfonso Cuaron’s 1983 24-minute student short film Cuarteto Para el Fin del Tiempo (Quartet for the End of Time) is a black-and-white film about a lonely man dealing with his own isolation as he rarely goes outside and his only friends are a little turtle and a goldfish. It’s a pretty good short that doesn’t have much plot and story as the look of it is quite grainy. Yet, it would have ideas including long tracking shots that would be a part of Cuaron’s filmmaking style.

The second short is Carlos Cuaron’s 2000 five-minute short Noche de Bodas (Wedding Night) where the short includes a text piece about Cuaron’s inspiration for the short inspired by an actual incident. The short is about a wedded couple’s wedding night that starts out great until an interruption. It’s a very funny short about a wedding night with a bit of a twist and lots of humor that stars Vanessa Bauche of Amores Perros fame. The last special feature in the DVD is the film’s theatrical trailer presented in a rough look as it’s marketed as a comedy.

The DVD also comes with a booklet featuring an essay and a fictional biography about the film’s protagonist. The essay entitled Sex, Lies, & Mariachis by Ryan F. Long discusses the film and its importance to the history of Mexican cinema. Particularly when there was a group of new filmmakers including Alfonso Cuaron that wanted to create movies that was about Mexico as it is instead of the stereotype and stock characters portrayed in the state-funded Mexican films of the 1980s. Long also talks about the film and how it took a horrifying subject matter like AIDS and made it funny which was ahead of its time. Particularly as it was used for a character’s sense of despair as Long’s essay is truly a fun read about the film and why it is a pillar for the movement that is New Mexican Cinema.

The second piece of text in the booklet is a fictional biography by Carlos Cuaron about Tomas Tomas that Cuaron wrote for Daniel Giminez Camacho to get in touch with his character. The bio talks about Tomas’ life where he seems to have a way with women since he was young while being very attached towards his mother. Notably as he and his mother rooted for the Red Sharks of Veracruz while his older sister and father were fans of Club America. Tomas became his own man as his fascination with women grew during his teen years leading him to become the lothario despite some bumps as a teen. The piece is a very funny yet compelling piece from Cuaron as he also writes other fictional bios for other characters at the film’s Criterion webpage. The overall DVD is a must have for fans of the film and of the work of Alfonso Cuaron.

***End of DVD Tidbits***

While it's nowhere near as great as masterpieces like Y Tu Mama Tambien or Children of Men, along with other films like A Little Princess and Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban. Solo con tu Pareja is still an enchanting, funny debut film from Alfonso Cuaron and company. Fans of Cuaron's no doubt, will find this film as a nice starting point into his visual language and such. Even in where his later films, fans would see where he would get a few of his ideas from his first feature. In the end, Solo con tu Pareja is an excellent debut feature from Alfonso Cuaron.


(C) thevoid99 2011

No comments: