I Am Happiness on Earth

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday August 15, 2014

A scene from 'I Am Happiness on Earth'
A scene from 'I Am Happiness on Earth'  

Director Julin Hernndez delves through love, isolation, desperation, the artistic struggle, and a whole lot more with "I Am Happiness on Earth."

This is a hard film to explain; in some ways, it's less a film than a sexy, black-tinged ballet shot through with passion, sex, and pain. Suitably, it's choreographed like a dance, with the camerawork and the actors moving through space and through the frame with precise timing.

Also suitably, the film begins with a long dance sequence by Gloria Contreres, who -- we're led to believe -- is part of a documentary being filmed by a fellow named Emiliano (Hugo Cataln). The documentary is a way for Emilio to clear his head after working on a sexually surreal art house project; it's also, perhaps not coincidentally, a means for him to meet and pick up male dancers like Octavio (Alan Ramrez).

The two enjoy a brief, intense fling, but Emiliano can't settle down for long. When he says "I love you," he means it... for the moment. But one moment leads to another, and so too with the male company he keeps.

Octavio is shattered, but he's young and resilient. (It takes a threesome with two women, of all things, to jolt him out of his melancholy.) when Emiliano leaves him messages in hopes of getting back together, Octavio, having learned his lesson, steers clear.

Can such life lessons be taken in by someone as self-absorbed as Emilio? The film dips into a long look at his film, titled "Two Between Many," which lends some insight into the director's frame of mind --and presents a threesome (two men and a woman this time) that parallels the one Octavio finds to be such a tonic. For the trio on Emiliano's film, however, sexual pleasure and torment are virtually one and the same: Their revels unfolds in a purgatory of flat lighting, graffiti-scrawled walls, and dingy rooms. (The sense of choreography in every scene carries through, however.)

A hustler named Jazn (Emilio von Sternenfels) anchors the film's third act, and serves as a second chance at love for Emilio -- but our boy can't get Octavio out of his mind. Has he lost his chance at love with the young dancer?

Cinematographer Alejandro Cant, editor Emiliano Arenales Osorio, and composer Arturo Villela are co-conspirators in the execution of this film, which pulls the viewer in different directions, softens him up, and leaves him a little dizzy. Is love indeed happiness? Is sex? Or is the title the battle cry of an artist whose outer confidence (and smoldering looks) promise little more than an illusion quick to be dispelled come the morning light?

There are many films out there about yearning, and about the contradictory impulses toward committed intimacy and self-protecting aloofness, but this may be the most graceful cinematic essay to date on how the subject applies to gay men. There are no easy answers here -- just a supple, fluid beauty of moving picture enchantment, with everything its implied glamor and recklessness entails.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.