Julián Hernández talks new film 'I Am Happiness on Earth'

Hugo Catalán (left) and Emilio von Sternefels
in a scene from "I Am Happiness on Earth"
Julián Hernández directed the film I Am Happiness on Earth (Yo soy la felicidad de este mundo). Born in 1972 in Mexico City, this is Hernández's fourth feature. The queer filmmaker makes long, but beautifully provocative, LGBT dramas.

Hernández spoke by phone with the help of a translator about this film, which was screened at the Quad Cinema in New York City and the Laemmle Playhouse in Los Angeles on August 15th. He talked about the film in advance of its DVD and VOD release on August 26th.

The Mexican movie director said the title comes from a German film known as Querelle. Years ago, Hernández watched an omnibus film that featured a character as a filmmaker. Ever since seeing that omnibus, he wanted to do something similar. He was commissioned to do a movie about a ballet dancer in NYC. Thus, I Am Happiness on Earth is a slight omnibus centering on a young filmmaker doing a movie on ballet.

Hernández said he wrote the screenplay with the actors he wanted to cast already in mind. To portray the young filmmaker named Emiliano, Hernández wanted Hugo Catalán whom he met at the premiere of Raging Sun, Raging Sky (2009), Hernández's previous film. To portray the ballet dancer named Octavio, Hernández wanted Alan Ramírez whom he met through the Mexico national dance company. He wanted Ramírez to be in a short film prior to this, but Ramírez was underage and couldn't participate in the graphic sex scenes present in all of Hernández's movies.

Because his films involve LGBT characters or homoerotic themes, he said it can be difficult to get funding to produce these films. After making Raging Sun, which won him his second Teddy Award, making Hernández the only filmmaker to win the Teddy Award twice at the Berlinale, he thought creating I Am Happiness on Earth would be easier.

His three previous films are all long with a lot of gay sex and not a lot of dialogue. This film is Hernández's attempt to be more mainstream. His previous two features were about 140 minutes, so Hernández decided to limit this film to only 124 minutes. He has an equal amount of heterosexual activity on screen as he has homosexual activity. Plus, at 60 pages, his script has way more dialogue here than probably his previous three combined.

Yet, Hernández still includes a very long and totally wordless sequence between three people who have a ménage à trois, and the character who is literally sandwiched in the middle of this threesome is an unnamed boy, portrayed by Gabino Rodriguez. Hernández said Rodriguez is a staple of Mexican independent films. Rodriguez has been in a ton of projects like Rudo y Cursi (2009) and Sin Nombre (2009) but has never done anything this sexual. I supposed it was Hernández's intention to change that.

Aside from those sex scenes though, Hernández shot a couple of full ballet performances. Yet, moments between characters where they weren't supposed to be dancing were choreographed using ballet moves. For example, when Rodriguez chases one of his lovers, or one of his lovers chases him down a hallway, the scene has the two jumping and kicking like a ballet dancer would.

Hernández said he always liked to work with dancers because they understand how he operates and how to express themselves physically. It most likely helped him during the three years it took him to shoot I Am Happiness on Earth. Despite his financial issues, he shot on actual 35mm film. He shot for 14 days: 4 days in 2009, 5 days in 2010 and 5 days in 2011.

Because of this, when assembled, his movie can feel episodic or scenes can feel disconnected and distanced. This might contribute to the conflicting feelings of the character Emiliano. Emiliano comments on marriage and monogamy, particularly his disbelief in them. The way Hernández's young people waiver back-and-forth or circle between sexual partners throughout this film could be indicative or a manifestation of that. It's no surprise then when Hernández's camera itself circles around the characters.

Hernández insisted that he doesn't identify with Emiliano, so it suggests there's nothing autobiographical here. The course of his previous films indicate his personal belief in love and two people bonding for life. This film could just be him dancing around that belief a little, if only to get a better feel of it.

I Am Happiness on Earth (Yo soy la felicidad de este mundo)
Directed by Julián Hernández. Starring Hugo Catalán, Alan Ramírez, Gabino Rodriguez and Emilio von Sternefels. Distributed by Breaking Glass Pictures. Available nationwide through all cable providers and online platforms like iTunes and Amazon Instant.


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