film note: Yo soy la felicidad de este mundo

Last updated on December 2nd, 2020 at 12:39 pm

Yo soy la felicidad de este mundo
(I Am Happiness on Earth)
Directed by Julián Hernández
Mexico, 2014

I’m a big fan of director Julián Hernández’s Mil nubes de paz cercan el cielo, amor, jamás acabarás de ser amor (2003); El cielo dividido (2006); and especially his mythopoeic, erotic magnum opus, Rabioso sol, rabioso cielo (2009).

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As perhaps his titles indicate, Hernández can be pretentious and obsessive but few modern directors have as keen a feel for the beauty of human bodies moving through space or have been able to express the power and pull — the dance — of human desire, more often homoerotic but not exclusively, expressed through the fluid choreography enacted between his camera and his actors. So I’m interested in everything he does.

Unfortunately, despite the seeming natural fit of casting a real modern dancer as a character (Octavio, played by gorgeous Alan Ramírez) as well as a filmmaker as a character (Emiliano, played by Hugo Catalán) I am happiness on Earth was the first Hernández movie that bored me in spots. Rather than scenes flowing naturally, I got the sense that I was watching a succession of barely connected shorts, sometimes with the same characters but not placed in a meaningful narrative sequence, or portraying interesting progression.

Some scenes, particularly the extended, out-of-nowhere bisexual threesome that takes place….somewhere… is supposed to be erotic, (and risky, I guess — there’s some autoerotic asphyxiation) but its modern-dance pretenses and the floppy dicks drained the scene of any real blood for me.

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However, I liked an earlier scene in which two women seduce Octavio to distract him from his sadness over Emiliano’s whoring around with a hustler, mostly because it was a character moment but also because the rapport felt real. I also enjoyed a few of the visual details in this scene — the traces of a wet kiss planted on Octavio’s bare back, the flashes of his irresistible smile, the parting of his crinkled pink lips.

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Since he’s working with his usual cinematographer, Alejandro Cantú, although notably in color here rather than the black and white of all the films I mentioned above, there are the expected moments of great formal beauty, even in scenes I didn’t particularly like. My favorite one that I did like is a solo performance by Octavio, in which he seems to be floating, swirling in black space, the camera circling him at different angles, with close-ups focusing on his ululating musculature and ratcheting spine.

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A final scene between the estranged couple, Octavio and Emiliano, on the other hand, as one pursues the other amidst concrete columns, reminded me of Hernández’s earlier films, in which the actors’ choreographed emotions felt like a fresh approach. Now it seems Hernández is repeating himself, but worse, the romance just falls flat. But maybe I’m more put off than I realize by the relative wealth and careful fashion sense on display here, compared to the rougher lads and their milieux in most of Hernández’s other films. In those films, the boys don’t shave their pubes, their clothing isn’t brand new and they don’t wear makeup, no matter how pretty their lips are.

They’re all just more my type.

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