Alfonso Cuarón's 1991 debut feature Sólo Con Tu Pareja is streaked with the highlights and flaws that have run though his career ever since. Cuarón is a sublime image-maker, and in movies like A Little Princess and Y Tu Mamá También, he and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki imbued the fantastical with the richly real, and vice versa. In Sólo Con Tu Pareja, they linger over the curving patterns of light and shadow on nude bodies, and they watch star Daniel Giménez Cacho line up paper cones and step on them, one after the other. Cuarón's first feature is sexy, visually poetic, and draped in the vibrant culture of Mexico City as experienced by the young and well-off. But the Cuarón of Sólo is also the man who'd make a ludicrous Great Expectations adaptation seven years later. As he works through his brother Carlos' sometimes unbearably frothy story about a lothario who gets his comeuppance from an ex-lover, Cuarón pops in TV-ad parodies, bed-hopping slapstick, and other stale frivolity. In spite of the pale echoes of Federico Fellini and Pedro Almodóvar, the movie's highly cinematic sensuality is all Cuarón. As of 2006, he's still learning what to do with it.
Three years after Cuarón bowed, Lodge Kerrigan made his first feature, Clean, Shaven. But Kerrigan emerged more fully formed, and though his subsequent films Claire Dolan and Keane are strong, neither is as lacerating as his first. Peter Greene stars in Clean, Shaven as a schizophrenic who drives around a remote island community looking for his daughter, who was adopted when Greene was institutionalized. Meanwhile, detective Robert Albert pursues Greene, who may have bludgeoned a local girl to death. Kerrigan puts the audience inside Greene's head, through off-kilter framing, jangled editing, and a soundtrack full of radio static and distant screams. It's a harrowing technique, showing how hard it can be to switch crazy off. In Greene's eyes, benign images of children and family are emotionally devastating, and a fingernail looks like a foreign object that needs to be hacked out with a dull blade. Clean, Shaven is a triumph of form and function—a movie that gets stuck in the skin like a splinter, and is just as hard to extract.
Key features: On Sólo, an intimate look at the early career and influences of Alfonso and Carlos Cuarón (including short films by each); on Clean, Shaven, a 10-minute Michael Atkinson video essay about Kerrigan's subjective use of sound, and a fascinating feature-length commentary/conversation between Kerrigan and his friend Steven Soderbergh.