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Cuarón's first fling is worth a second look

Four years ago, ``Y Tu Mama Tambien" made Alfonso Cuarón's reputation as a director with an elastic sense of humor, a social conscience, and a healthy respect for siz able sexual appetites. But if you were going to the movies in Mexico in 1991 when ``Sólo Con Tu Pareja," his first attention-getting feature came out, you already knew that.

The movie, which Cuarón's brother Carlos wrote, is an energetic and slangy screwball comedy with almost unprecedented emphasis on the country's yuppie middle class. The film focused on a gleeful womanizer in Mexico City named Tomás Tomás (Daniel Giménez Cacho). The film's charm stems from the impression that Tomás is not a sex fiend, per se. He's also on his way to the doghouse at work: Coming up with a catchy ad campaign for a brand of chilies is harder than you'd think, and so is having an affair with your boss -- she's waiting for your copy and your sex.

The predicaments the Cuaróns come up with for Tomás prefigure a decade of slapstick nonsense on American sitcoms. At some point, Tomás shuttles back and forth between the boss (Isabel Benet), waiting in his apartment, and the nurse (Dobrina Liubomirova) who just tested him for AIDS. His maneuvers require him to inch along the ledge around an apartment building.

Without trivializing the disease, the film challenges AIDS's stigma (albeit for heterosexuals) at a moment when it was still considered an instant death sentence. The film's English title, ``Love in the Time of Hysteria," is somebody's joke on Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel ``Love in the Time of Cholera." But the film's literal translation, ``Only With Your Partner," is a farcical reaction to one of the Mexican government's safe-sex campaigns. The Cuarons's get jokey with the idea, having the nurse, annoyed at Tomás 's tomcatting, vengefully check ``positive" on his HIV test. The bad news opens up a coyly cynical door on Tomás's pathos in a way that might please Billy Wilder.

Extras: Making-of featurette, including interviews with the Cuarons and Giménez Cacho, who explains that the movie helped wake up a nation's morbund film culture; Alfonso Cuaron's 1983 short film ``Quartet for the End of Time"; Carlos Cuaron's 2000 short film ``Wedding Night." (Criterion, $29.95)

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