Director: Julián Hernández
Screenplay: Julián Hernández
Cast: Jorge Becerra (as Kieri); Javier Oliván (as Tari); Guillermo Villegas (as Ryo); Giovanna Zacarías (as Tatei)
Synopsis: After a night of passion with a mysterious woman Tatei (Zacarías), plagued by the voices of everyone she passes and connected to a mystical alter-reality, Ryo (Villegas) is pushed onwards into a passionate love triangle with two other men, Kieri (Becerra), who Ryo is in love with, and Tari (Oliván), obsessed with him, taking all three between a porn theatre where gay cruising takes place to apartments where the alter-reality can be found through a bathroom sink, the jealousies and romances culminating into an alternative reality of warriors coveting Ryo and magic in a desert landscape that Tatei presides over as an ancient goddess.
As a heterosexual man, viewing gay erotica has a very different perspective than for a gay or bisexual viewer who'd be fully able to appreciate their sexuality onscreen. It could be so easy for me to trivialise this and put one's foot in ones mouth in an area which, rightly, should be written the most about by actual gay and bisexual viewers and critics but, to bring out a personal secret of mine, I share the same opinion once made by one of my idols Alejandro Jodorowsky that I wish I was born bisexual as a whole dimension of beautiful sexuality is unavailable to me to appreciate fully, peering through a window into rooms I will never be able to walk through or welcome with the emotional depth as for a gay man. I can still appreciate the sensuality of the male form, and do everything I can to learn and improve as a person to appreciate this more, but the above will always be in mind for me having considered carefully and found my own sexuality is heterosexual.
But that doesn't mean that sensuality of any form, regardless of your sexual orientation, cannot effect you still, and be powerful and attractive erotically even if you're not attracted physically to your fellow gender. Someone open minded and without bigotry or self consciousness about one's emotions can still find sensuality when done well or with such exuberance in such films, and the best of gay cinema's decadent and experimental entries can not only wash over any viewer with their sexuality fully, but are personally for me some of the best cinema has ever made, knowing full well that many of the iconic films were made, in times where oppressive and homophobic atmospheres were rife, with the creators bravely and proudly expressing their sexuality and not hesitating to express himself with full artistic vibrancy. When it works it's not only intoxicating, the best of gay experimental cinema (Derek Jarman, Kenneth Anger) or the best of erotic and transgressive gay cinema (Jack Smith to Peter De Rome), but shows you how good cinema is in form, style and emotional connection, and with this in mind, Raging Sun, Raging Sky does deserve to be compared to luminous entries like Pink Narcissist (1971) or Jean Genet's Un chant d'amour (1950) from decades earlier, completely separating itself from the drab, wreckage of social drama which trivialises subjects like gay sexuality into dramatic points, and places within a better type of cinema where the physicality and sexuality is so pronounced, between the aggressive and sordid but also the romantic and tender, that it's probably the greater way to deal with these themes.
Interestingly Raging Sun, Raging Sky begins with a woman and a man having a sweet, playful one night stand after getting caught in the rain together, deliberately starting with a pan sexuality as that man becomes part of a romantic triangle between himself and two other men. Over three hours long, two hours in sumptuous black and white, the last hour in colours, express its theme of desire with this in mind, a urban set realistic drama which yet, almost entirely without dialogue, does so almost entirely from then on from the perspective of an all homoerotic world where the various interactions, sexual rendezvous and moments of conflict raise the characters' passions above merely being gay sensuality but a universal form, sexy and erotic for any viewer whilst proudly embracing its sexual identity, openly fetishizing and artistically painting the male form and various fantasies of men meeting mysterious strangers, from wide eyes youths with backpacks on to the older, confidant individual who sticks out amongst the crowd, with pride. The first two hours pass quickly, managing to convey enough drama with minimal dialogue whilst feeling like a continuation of Pink Narcissist, an erotic film which for many years had an anonymous director and is set in a hyper fantastic world of gay fantasies, of imaging countless different sexual interactions and romances within a world of its own, a film set in real life urban Mexico, but a monochrome alter reality within a porn cinema presided by an older, beautiful female projectionist who lets male customers in to participate in orgies in the aisles to dark, night set streets and chain fences and warehouses where other meetings take place.
The third and final hour takes a different turn, briefly alluded to throughout the film in flashes of the characters' psyches and conceived as an alternative reality fed from the ancient Mexican mythology by way of a Jack Smith glamorous fantasy, found fully through a character leaving their head in a full bathroom sink of water and seeing it reflected in the bottom by way of muted, full colour photography. It's the section that's the more difficult to adapt to on the first viewing because, while the film is formidable in length, a drastic tonal shift is felt to a more deliberately slow and avant-garde one in this final act. A lot of the final act's mood is, in honesty, that of normal actions being stretched on purpose to minutes long, such as a character as a lizard-man hybrid awoken from under dried out sand and rock walking from one end of a the screen to the other in a desert, evoking Michael Snow's Wavelength (1967) in terms of deliberately stalling time until its distorted. It'll be a challenge for some viewers, when the first two hours whilst without a lot of dialogue are sensual, breezy passages, but it's ultimately saved, making sure the film is still great, because it evokes a side of gay cinema of glamour and fantasy even on a low budget, that of the aforementioned Jack Smith with Flaming Creatures (1963) or Derek Jarman at his more openly decadent where gay/bisexual/transgender desire is made into grandiose drama by way of old forms sadly dismissed as kitsch or out of date, from old Hollywood b-movies to classical art, here in this case the old world of Mexican myths and fairytale plotting where one character has to rescue his love from the third with the woman Tatei as a goddess figure helping the first in his quest, something becoming rarely evoked in modern erotic and pornography regardless of sexual orientation of making sexual desire more than baseness and having monumental by metaphor to make it mean more than just that.
The monochrome cinematography is gorgeous. This isn't the effect of, for example, Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha (2012) which is black-and-white to seem artistic but feels utterly pointless and pretentious, lacking any point to the lack of colour visually, but has the appropriate sense of deep greys, blacks and whites which encloses the film's first two hours in a magical sheen, enough to show the stark reality of real life urban Mexico but also turning it into a place with secrets, where every street corner or the entrance of a cinema covered in film posters could be a place to have a carnal interaction with a stranger both participants with enjoy before walking away. An orgiastic communion of men between underground building pillars or sexual activity in a public toilet cubical that's passionate, claustrophobic and ultimately humorous when the concern someone will hear the individuals involved is dwindled when said person in earshot is more interested in wanking into a urinal in his own blissful state of sexual freedom. The sense of artistry, alongside its deliberate pace, evokes the films of the past in LGBT cinema in its elegance.
Abstract Spectrum: Expressionist
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Low
The mix of fantasy and realism from Julián Hernández is immensely intoxicating, managing to convey a Dionysus hedonism where while conflict, jealousy and aggression take place, everyone involved ends up happy and content with their various successful sexual encounters with strangers and those they love, all done with the main cast mainly using only their body language to depict this by a glance or a small physical gesture. Whilst not as elaborate as a fantasy like Pink Narcissus or Flaming Creatures, Mexico is depicted as a place of countless secrets, where the sexual interactions between all the figures we see is fluid and beyond monogamy, confrontational in terms of having sex scenes which have a violent eroticism to them but against others which are also gentle and loving. A lot of the film is subtly abstract, where one is allowed to enter a world within a world, where everyone interacts without fences between every person centre stage onscreen, a casualness to the erotic tone that's breathtaking and affecting regardless of one's sexual orientation, particularly as the film succeeds in fleshing out the characters, able to breather away from sex scenes constantly, and that there's a complete disregard of puritanicalism here, where characters, whether their number, exist in their world where sex is fluid and allowed to thrive.
When Raging Sun, Raging Sky does get overtly fantastical it's also subtle but director-screenwriter Hernández clearly embraces the change fully. It's in the camp of modern directors like Albert Serra (Story of My Death (2013)) and Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady (2004)) who come from the realistic, minimalistic school of art cinema but in their various personalities absorb bouts of the fantastic and imaginary into their existing materials, the unreal depicted onscreen with a muted but undeniable magic to them, especially in Raging Sun, Raging Sky when you have characters floating down an actual cave with what appears to be old Hollywood b-movie wires helping them down, a grit covered fairytale plot representing the volatile emotions between Ryu, Kieri and Tari built up, and vast and atmospheric desertscape and hills used as the locations.
Patience, or a night free to fully embrace it, is needed with Raging Sun, Raging Sky but it's the kind of poetic, openly artistic cinema that's worth this, gay cinema which even for a heterosexual man is powerful and erotic, an extravagance that feels like it's actually taking risks and succeeding.