'I Am Happiness on Earth': Film Review

I Am Happiness On Earth Still - H 2014
Courtesy of The Open Reel

I Am Happiness On Earth Still - H 2014

A beautifully photographed but tedious Mexican mood piece.

Gay Mexican film centers on a movie director and the dancer he stalks

Mexican director Julian Hernandez has won awards at film festivals for his earlier gay films. His latest, I Am Happiness on Earth, has also been making the rounds at gay festivals and is actually having a brief theatrical release in this country. Since gay audiences no longer rush out to see LGBT films even if they have explicit sex, this one doesn’t seem likely to have much of a shelf life. It's a pretty trying movie to watch, though it does have some striking images.

The main character is a film director named Emiliano (Hugo Catalan), who seems to specialize in dance films with a sideline in hardcore sex films. He's restless and uninterested in a serious relationship, though he becomes fixated on a gifted dancer named Octavio (Alan Ramirez). But his phobia of commitment puts the kibosh on that promising liaison.

Actually, that summary makes the film sound more coherent than it is. The movie begins by suggesting that Octavio may be the main character, but he disappears for a long stretch while Emiliano films a sexual encounter of two men and a woman. This film-within-a-film seems interminable and has only a marginal connection to the main characters. Emiliano also takes up with a hustler before reconnecting briefly with Octavio at the end. During all these scenes, it's hard to feel anything for the self-absorbed Emiliano, and the other characters appear too infrequently to register strongly.

Publicity has compared this movie to other films about filmmaking like 8 1/2 and Contempt, but those had more compelling actors as well as more piquant insights into the filmmaking circus. What makes Happiness intermittently watchable is the color scheme. Hernandez has an eye for arresting compositions. The set design is intriguing, and even the clothes are thoughtfully chosen. But it's hard to recommend a movie in order to appreciate a turquoise T-shirt or the green tiles in a bathroom.

The best scenes are the dance sequences, which capture the tactile sense of bodies in motion. Ramirez seems to be a genuinely gifted dancer, and his body is lovingly photographed as he glides through his paces. Ramirez also gives the most appealing performance in the film, so it's a considerable letdown when he disappears for half the movie. The sexual interludes aren't erotic enough to make up for the absence of characterization, and the editing is almost maddeningly slow.

Cast: Hugo Catalan, Alan Ramirez, Andrea Portal, Gabino Rodriguez, Emilio von Sternenfels.
Director: Julian Hernandez.
Screenwriters: Julian Hernandez, Ulises Perez Mancilla.
Producer: Roberto Fiesco.
Director of photography: Alejandro Cantu.
Art director: Jesus Torres Torres.
Editor: Emiliano Arenales Osorio.
Music: Arturo Villela.
No rating, 122 minutes.