Love in the Time of Hysteria (1991)

Mexico

4.5*
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Screenwriter: Carlos Cuarón
Director of Photography:
Emmanuel Lubezki
Running time: 94 minutes

Original title: Sólo Con Tu Pareja

In 2001, Y Tu Mamá También, Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece, would open with a shot that is almost an exact replica of the first shot in his first feature film: a young man and woman are having sex on a mattress while the camera slowly tracks towards them amidst their passionate shrieks of pleasure. Cuarón has a penchant for mixing comedy with much more serious reflections on human nature, and his first film, though much more broadly comical than any of his other projects, gives the viewer a taste of things to come.

Love in the Time of Hysteria shares a great deal with a 1980s Almodóvar classic such as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and at many points the film had me in stitches. If you remember the running joke about the Shi’ite terrorists in Almodóvar’s film, you will love Cuarón’s recurring references to a gringa who put her French poodle in a microwave.

A young playboy called Tomás Tomás works in the advertising industry and has stuck it in so many places he has all but lost count of his conquests. When some white spots appear in his throat, he goes to see his friend, Mateo de Mateos, who is a doctor. Silvia, Mateo’s nurse, falls for Tomás and in the blink of an eye, they have arranged to meet at Tomás’s flat that evening. The only problem is that Tomás’s boss and part-time lover, Gloria, is on her way over to discuss the latest ad campaign. When the two women arrive, Tomás has his hands full to ensure that they are both satisfied without finding out about each other.

Unfortunately, a third woman piques his interest: a young flight attendant named Clarisa, who has just moved in next door. And so, Tomás loses track of time and poor Silvia leaves in a huff the next morning. In fact, she is so beside herself with frustration that she decides to play a trick on Tomás: we have already established that she is a lascivious little sadist, but now she informs him that his HIV test has come back positive.

But while this turn of events in Tomás’s life could potentially have terrible consequences, all of which Tomás seems to consider very seriously, Cuarón’s use of the colour green – as in so many of his other films, most visibly in Great Expectations – hints at the victory of life over death, whatever the red arrows of Cupid (that serve as accents on the green text of the opening credits) might otherwise indicate.

This is a film full of incidents of varying hilarity, staged with a magnificent sense of direction and energy, and while one could easily fault the film for a lack of real substance, it certainly holds the viewer’s attention, because the chaos does not overwhelm the storylines. Also, Cuarón’s use of mostly classical music on the soundtrack (which often consists of Mozart – predictably, the “Madamina, il catalogo è questo” aria from Don Giovanni) gives a slightly heavier, though perhaps only ironically, gloss to the events we witness.

Love in the Time of Hysteria doesn’t take itself too seriously – exhibit one is the opening quotation of the film, from e.e. cummings, which states that “mike likes all the girls […] all the girls except the green ones”, but these quotes ranges from such nonsense to Newton’s Third Law; its characters usually have the same first and last names, and Tomás’s friend Mateo uses cliché Latin sayings in most of his sentences. Nonetheless, the film certainly entertains and while the characters of the two Japanese businessmen have no real place in the story, this film showed the great promise on which Alfonso Cuarón would soon deliver. His cameraman, Emmanuel Lubezki, would continue to work with him on most of his subsequent projects, as well as the films of Terrence Malick, while his other cameraman, Rodrigo Prieto, would work with the other great Mexican director of the last decade, Alejandro González Iñárritu.

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