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MOVIE REVIEW

'Solo' gives early glimpse of director's screwball humor

Four years ago, "Y tu mamá también" made Alfonso Cuarón's reputation as a director with an elastic sense of humor, a social conscience, and a healthy respect for sizable sexual appetites. But if you were going to the movies in Mexico in 1991 when "Solo: Love in the Time of Hysteria," 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. 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 addicted to women. (Mozart's "Don Giovanni" plays throughout.) 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 high-up ledge around the apartment building.

Without trivializing the disease, the film challenges AIDS' stigma (albeit for heterosexuals) at a moment when it was still considered a death sentence. The film's English title is somebody's joke on Gabriel García Márquez's novel, but it was released in Mexico as "Sólo con tu pareja" -- "Only With Your Partner" -- which is a farcical take on one of the Mexican government's safe-sex campaigns. (The film was recently released on DVD by Criterion under the original title.) The Cuaróns 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.

This is an edited version of the DVD review published Oct. 15.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

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