I Am Happiness on Earth (NR)

August 15, 2014
By Abby Garnett
Early in writer-director Julián Hernández's languid I Am Happiness on Earth, a dancer writhes in a rehearsal room as the camera circles her muscular body. Then a dolly swoops sideways into the frame, and suddenly the camera is staring into what seems to be its own reflection. This second camera is attended by Emiliano (Hugo Catalán), a grouchy director of art-house films. As Hernández follows Emiliano through a series of romantic encounters with a winsome dancer named Octavio (Alan Ramírez) and Jazen (Emilio von Sternerfels), a student and sometime hooker, this visual thesis of dueling opposites reappears frequently.

But Emiliano has more luck initiating physical contact than sustaining emotional intimacy, and Hernández likewise struggles to channel his striking imagery into real feeling. Often, his fascination with the aesthetics of coupling trumps both story and character. Hernández has honed this hyper-choreographed style with several similarly visually driven, same-sex love stories, including 2006's Broken Sky. His methodology often has the feel of black-box theater, exploiting the physical confines of walls and windows for dramatic, high-impact framing (and to display posters advertising Emiliano's penchant for German art films and Mexican crooners).

I Am Happiness on Earth's script is mostly filler between explicit, intensely choreographed sex acts: Its 30-minute centerpiece is a near-wordless encounter between three nameless characters, which runs through myriad imaginative triangular configurations, including, at one point, an evocation of the Pietà. Next to this symphony of nubile young bodies, Emiliano and his personal woes seem superfluous. It might have been wiser for Hernández to keep him behind the camera.

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