REVIEW: DVD Release: Raging Sun, Raging Sky

Film: Raging Sun, Raging Sky
Release date: 12th April 2010
Certificate: 18
Running time: 191 mins
Director: Julián Hernández
Starring: Jorge Becerra, Javier Oliván, Guillermo Villegas
Genre: Drama
Studio: TLA
Format: DVD
Country: Mexico

The third feature film by Julián Hernández continues the theme of his previous work, exploring the possibilities of homosexual love and sexuality on an epic scale.

Raging Sun, Raging Sky is a tale of two lovers, separated by a jealous outsider and ultimately reunited by a mysterious female spirit, described as “the heart of the sky.”

Soundtracked by the noises of traffic, rain and murmured thoughts rather than dialogue, the film begins with a seemingly chance romantic and sexual encounter between a man, Ryo, and the female spirit on the streets of Mexico City. She sets him on a quest to find his true companion, exhorting him to let love be his guide.

Ryo’s companion is not to be a woman, but a man, and the film goes on to explore a search for emotional and sexual intimacy in the city.

In contrast to the sexual encounters readily found in the gay cinema, bars or toilets of the city, the three main male characters experience visions of their soulmates which indicate the destiny of their paths. Ryo discovers his soulmate, Kieri, but their story is not to be straightforward. A third character, Tari, pines after Ryo and abducts him, taking him to a cave in the desert, where Kieri must find and save him. The sky spirit guides Kieri’s path in the name of love, which she believes will bring harmony to the world…

The film is virtually wordless, and the scant commentary supplied by the occasional exposition of the characters’ internal thoughts has a poetic style and a mythical theme. Critics have commented that Hernandez’ previous works display the characteristics of choreography, and approaching the film as a piece of physical theatre rather than conventional realistic representation makes sense of some of its idiosyncrasies.

The pace is slow, and the acting of Giovanna Zacarias (the sky spirit) and Javier Oliván (Tari), in particular, exhibit the exaggerated expression of a story told through mime or dance, a style we’re more accustomed to see projected from a stage than viewed in close up on a cinema screen. Giovanna Zacarias trained in classical ballet, and this is evident both in her very deliberate movements, and in the extreme emotion of her facial expressions. Certain scenes show a slow balletic shift in tension – as when Ryo, in foreground and brightly lit, slowly descends the stairs of a cinema, with shadowed men circling behind him, or when Ryo and the female sky spirit walk with a measured and joyful pace towards each other through the rain. One scene shows Ryo with a number of men having sex around him, their moves echoing each other in a clearly choreographed way, which evokes a collective mood rather than the actions of individuals.

As with good dance performances, the film has a certain hypnotic power, and it’s due in no small part to the creative soundtrack – while later scenes, during the dramatic finale, use an occasional drum roll or the growing tension implied by the repeated brush of a cymbal, the majority of the film is accompanied by the sounds of the city (a bus changing gear, the rainstorms that seem to accompany moments of true intimacy, the unspoken thoughts of people waiting for a bus).

The artistic team of Alejandro Cantù (photographic director) and Julio Quezada Orozco (artistic director) worked on Hernández’ previous feature film, Broken Sky (2006), and the distinctive style of the cinematography is frequently stunning. Mainly shot in black-and-white, lighting is used to exaggerated effect, particularly in night scenes where a character may be strongly backlit so that all else fades into darkness, or where the light flickers to give a sense of heightened emotion or of sinister intent. The film is intent on exploring sex as a means of spiritual intimacy, and the mood of these scenes varies from tenderness or hope to violence, but some of the sex scenes can verge on over stylised, with their perfectly lit protagonists recalling the black-and-white sterility of 1980s Calvin Klein adverts.

The film loses some of its impact when the setting shifts from the claustrophobia of the city to the starkly lit desert location of Ryo’s abduction and the final scenes. The film’s low budget is evident in the aerial panning shots of the mountains. The soundtrack also changes here from the understated noises of the city to a minimalistic musical soundtrack, obviously intended to underscore the themes of tragedy and heroism. This would only be effective if the whole vision of these later scenes worked, but there is too much towards the end that doesn’t - from the characters’ One Million BC-esque costumes to the portentous mythology of the sky spirit, sporting a spear and helmet and imploring Kieri to let the impetuous stream of his spirit attack his enemy. There’s a fine line to be walked between the epic and the ridiculous, and this doesn’t always manage to tread the right side of that line. Despite this, the film’s ultimate resolution of conflict is touching, and ends with a characteristically finely framed shot.

The positive intentions of the film are evident – a wish to present love as a revolutionary force, and to create scenes which are not just physically erotic but spiritually so. But beautiful cinematography and an atmospheric soundtrack are not enough to sustain involvement - at over three hours long, the film undeniably drags, and, as with Hernández’ previous work, it’s likely to provoke a love or hate reaction in most viewers. It would be good to see the undeniable skill and lyricism of his work adapted to something lighter. KR

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