Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Julián Hernández is back with a new, nettlesome gay art film in tow, I AM HAPPINESS ON EARTH

Yes, Julián Hernández, the Mexican filmmaker who gave us A Thousand Clouds of Peace, Broken Sky and Raging Sun, Raging Sky has returned with a new film that should prove to most audiences every bit as illuminating/ obfuscating as his earlier work. I AM HAPPINESS ON EARTH is another long (two hours, two minutes) observation of and meditation on gay life, as filtered through the lens, heart and mind of its protagonist, who, this time, is himself a filmmaker. If this makes the movie more personal than usual for Señor Hernández (shown at left, below, with a couple of his cast members), no matter. It is still, as are all his films, concerned with gay life and attraction, sex and longing, meetings and partings. This time, however, the filmmaker seems to be moving a bit toward bi- or maybe pan-sexuality.

I Am Happiness on Earth (IAHOE from here on in) opens with a dancer and a film director who is checking him out. Both are beautiful, and the dancer (below) is lithe and exquisite, as well. An assignation occurs, but when a further date never materializes, our young dancer calls a halt and instead goes off with a couple of his girlfriends, who entice him into a threeway.

That's maybe the first half hour or 45 minutes. Then we cut to a graffiti-laden bathroom in which another man (two photos below) is waking up in a bathtub (this reverberates slightly from an earlier scene). Another dreamy hunk comes into the bathroom, as, downstairs, a young woman (below) writhes on the floor. Yes, weird. But then things grow even weirder.

The men are interested in each other, maybe, and in the woman, too. Cocks and a cunt are unfurled and sex takes place, both soft and hard-core. A lot of watching goes on, for both the audience and the filmmaker. This section reminded me visually of certain movies from the 1960s, and it is different from most else I can recall seeing from this director.

Then we're back with our filmmaker and a call boy he's hired, who eventually turns into a full-time lover. We also see our initial dancer once again (who by now is semi-famous), during which the longing re-surfaces, to which no real follow-up is possible.

Hernández (at left) is a certainly a major force in Mexican gay cinema. I wouldn't miss his films, even though, being rather long and paced somewhat slowly, they occasionally put me briefly to sleep. They're dreamy and erotic, with plenty of male pulchri-tude on display (this time some female, as well -- plus a more ironic commentary on film and filmmaking). They also embrace homosexuality's outsider status, its forbidden side, its treachery and betrayal, its longing, its love of beauty and need for connection. (Sort of like heterosexuality -- minus the outsider/ forbidden status, of course.)

The filmmaker does have some odd tics: His view of dance, in particular, seems weird, as he concentrates almost exclusively on the dancer's head and chest, as though the rest of the body didn't count for much. (Film this may be, but any real appreciation of dance it ain't.) Odd stylistic touches abound: the lack, occasionally, of any sound, and the switch, now and then, from color to black-and-white.

His film also seems to move in fits and starts and clunks, although this may very well have had to do with the Vimeo streaming link I was sent and how it merged with my wireless reception. (That's the trouble with these Vimeo, DAX and other streaming links we critics receive. You can never be quite certain if what you're seeing is an artistic touch or simply not-so-hot reception.)

As for the performances, they're all presumably just what the director ordered. Each actor does what's required -- which is mostly looking beautiful and sexy and full of desire. Not a lot is asked of this cast, acting-wise, while any questions regarding motivation -- "Hey, I'm just doing what the director told me!" -- probably never come up.

By the time IAHOE's two hours have come to a close, we (and presumably our movie-maker) have taken quite a journey. He is left watching a porno tape of himself and his lover engaging in sex -- which may be more real and important for him than was the actual sex itself. And we are left with what I guess is the moral here: Hey, kids: If you want a "real" relationship, don't get involved with a filmmaker!

From Breaking Glass Pictures, the movie opens theatrically this Friday, August 15, here in New York City at the Quad Cinema and in Pasadena at Laemmle's Playhouse 7. For anyone not near those two venues, the following week -- on Tuesday August 19, the film will hit the streets on DVD and across country via VOD/Digital (from all cable providers, iTunes and Amazon Instant Video).

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