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Solo Con Tu Pareja (1991) tells the story of Tomas Tomas, a young Don Juan character. When one of his scorned lovers decides to forge his STD test with a false HIV diagnosis, he begins to question his life. After becoming infatuated with a flight attendant he starts to see the light in this nuanced and complicated movie.
The Waning Days of the PRI
The 1968 Massacre of Tlatelolco in which snipers hired by the government opened fire on protesters killing 44 people changed everything. Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes viewed the massacre as the birth of a new Mexico because it was revealed that the only method available for the government to deal with challenges was the forceful suppression of dissent. So when Luis Echeverria became president in 1970 after having been a part of the previous Diaz Ordaz administration, he was seen as morally responsible for the massacre and viewed with suspicion. Because of this, he had to stray from his own party, the PRI’s doctrine, and copy the populist manner of Lazaro Cardenas. In an attempt to reverse the negative press of the massacre, he released student prisoners in 1971 and moved closer to the left with some prominent communists praising him. But the peace was short-lived and the winter of 1971-1972 was filled with robberies and kidnappings of prominent officials like the president’s own father in law, Jose Guadalupe Zune Hernandez. The economy flatlined and by 1973 inflation had reached 20%. The Mexican Miracle was over. Noted Mexican historian Daniel Cosio Villegas wrote essays chastising the president’s policies, something that had not been done to a sitting president in years. In 1976, Jose Lopez Portilla became president and sought to end the violence and limit corruption.
New oil reserves luckily saved Mexico’s economy and as oil prices rose Mexico seemed stable again. Even though Mexico was flush with oil money, they continued to import heavily and thereby failed to lower the balance of payments. By 1979 the debt constituted more than 30 billion pesos per year. Under Lopez Portilla, Mexico’s debt tripled. The following president, Miguel de la Madrid, tried to put in place the “moral renovation of society” but failed tremendously. When the Mexico City earthquake hit in 1985 and more than 20,000 people died, de la Madrid’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared it would not request aid, specifically rejecting aid from the US and the people of Mexico City organized against the government.
The 1988 election year served notice to the PRI that its decades-long dominance was being threatened. Opposition parties were growing and Cuauhtémoc Cardenas, the son of former president Lazaro Cardenas and formerly a member of the PRI, was running for president on a campaign for increased democracy. As the tally of votes grew for Cardenas on the night of the election, officials announced that there had been a problem with the computers and that they were being temporarily shut down. When the computers came back online, the results showed that Salinas, the PRI candidate, had won with just barely over 50 percent of the votes. PRI faced calls for reform and by 1994, the Chiapas uprising and powerful opposition would finally end this party’s 71 year reign.
By the time Alfonso Cuaron made his film debut, the Mexican film industry was in a low spot. The 70s and 80s had been marked by an increase in state involvement in the industry with this film being state-funded as well. Many of the films of the previous decades reinforced ideas of Mexican nationalism and featured the celebrated symbols of their heritage. Cuaron was coming at a time when patriotism was low and the need for a more nuanced view of Mexico was present. Cuaron lampoons the images often celebrated by the Mexican government. His protagonist, Tomas, writes slogans for a jalapeño company with one of his most memorable being “The Envy of Moctezuma”. Parodying the partnership of commercialization and nationalism puts Mexico in a new filmmaking era. But that being said, Cuaron also pays tribute to the films of the past. In one of the great feats of physical comedy of the film, Tomas is seen scaling the side of his building in a stunt that would be fit for Cantinflas. When he looks down he sees a mariachi band playing “Despierta”, a song made famous by Pedro Infante. In a way, Tomas’ careless misogyny is no different than Infante’s, but the ending shows the rebirth of a different kind of man. When he decides against killing himself after going to the top of the Latin American Tower (the tallest building in Mexico City) with Clarisa, he enters a new phase in his life. Leaving behind the majesty of this modern Mexican design, Tomas may not completely shed his past but he is definitely a different person. He shares less and less DNA with the men of Mexico’s past.
AIDS & Sexuality
Another interesting aspect of this film is its depiction of AIDS. Made during the international AIDS crisis, this is one of the first films to treat the disease comically. The title of the film is even cheekily taken from a Mexican PSA which urged people to use condoms and only have sex with their partner. It is also one of the few times that AIDS has been depicted as a problem for a wealthy, white, and straight womanizer. No longer limited to the dark corners of the poorest and most morally dubious urban spaces, AIDS is a disease that affects everyone. The disease is also a positive force in his life as it makes him confront his own machismo. When he has sex with Clarisa on top of the Latin American Tower, it is far sweeter and gentler than any of the other times he is with women. It is clear that Clarisa, with whom he has been the most honest about his feelings and his diagnosis, is not an object for him. Though the ending remains unclear as to whether he will be able to remain monogamous, his false diagnosis has led to significant and positive change in his life.