The power of desire has rarely been so ravishingly lensed as in “Raging Sun, Raging Sky,” cult helmer Julian Hernandez’s stunning ode to love and sex, which literally elevates both to mythological heights. Selling the film, however, will prove an Olympian challenge given that it’s over three hours long, without dialogue and awash in naked male-on-male couplings. More a work for art galleries than cinemas, the pic will likely turn off straight auds uncomfortable with the celebratory homoeroticism, while the gay fest crowd will grow bored. Winning Berlin’s Teddy award may help, though programmers should emphasize “experimental” in their marketing.
“Raging Sun, Raging Sky” is the culmination of Hernandez’s trilogy referencing the firmament, following “A Thousand Clouds of Peace” and “Broken Sky.” Stylistically and thematically similar, the films all share the helmer’s touching romanticism while rejoicing in the sexual urge. It’s as if he’s taken Isaac Julien’s mantra “Feel no guilt in your desire” and raised the concept to art, reveling in a joyful eroticism whose antecedents move from Baron von Gloeden to Herbert List to Bruce Weber.
Unlike Weber, however, whose photos fetishize a cold, unattainable masculinity, Hernandez imbues his perfect specimens with warmth and spirit. The plot unfolds at a leisurely pace, gleaned from a series of incidents before completely changing style in the last hour. At the start, Meche (Clarisa Rendon) wanders through a city, bombarded by the taunting, disembodied voices of an uncaring world. Semi-hysterical, she meets Ryo (Guillermo Villegas), who caresses her face as a storm sends down diluvial torrents and the two run off to his place where they have sex: two people in desperate need of another soul.
Cut to a run-down cinema where men cruise each other for sex. It takes a stroke of genius to reclaim such scenes from the ownership of Tsai Ming-liang and Brillante Mendoza, but Hernandez banishes the taint of Tsai’s “Goodbye Dragon Inn” by refusing to link sex with decline or decadence. Though the paint is peeling, the men indulging their urges are sensual, not sordid, their act raw, hot and natural rather than “dirty” or shaming. Here, Kieri (Jorge Becerra) spies and eventually hooks up with Ryo,much to the frustration of Tari (Javier Olivan), who’s also enamored with the latter young man.
Tari’s intense jealousy propels the film into the realm of mythology, as Hernandez switches from black-and-white to a dreamy color of intense whites and evergreens. Tari deposits the sleeping, naked body of Ryo in a cave, while Kieri, emerging from the parched earth, searches for his beloved a la Orpheus and Eurydice while being guided by a goddess, “Corazon del cielo” (Giovanna Zacarias).
That Hernandez can mix world mythologies with homoeroticism and not seem remotely pretentious is something of a miracle. He’s as much a choreographer as he is a director, the performers demonstrating the kind of immediate intimacy generally found only in great ballet stagings. Helmer transforms thesps who could seem like empty lookers into men (and women) endowed with heroic hearts.
Hernandez’s aptitude for black-and-white, enriched with incandescent sources of light, is equally matched by his feel for restrained color. Influences come from sources as diverse as Gustave Dore and Pierre et Gilles, though charged with warmth and approachability. Lensing by Alejandro Cantu is breathtaking, beautifully framed and gracefully describing space with a seductive blend of closeups and fluid camerawork. Sound design makes superb use of stereo.