A Thousand Clouds of Peace
Written and Directed by Julián Hernández
Premiered February 11, 2003 at the Berlin International Film Festival
Review by Stephen O. Murray
April 11, 2004.
The title of Julián Hernández’s first feature film provides fair warning that it aspires to be artistic. A Thousand Clouds of Peace is less than transparent, but get the full title: Mil nubes de paz cercan el cielo, amor, jamás acabarás de ser amor. Translating it into English, I’d add possessive pronouns and render this as “A thousand clouds of peace fence the sky, [my] love; you will always be [the one I] love. (A more word-for-word translation is “A thousand clouds of peace fence the sky, love; never will cease you being love [by me].”
This, um, shall we say “poetic” effusion is directed by the buzz-cut seventeen-year-old Gerardo (Juan Carlos Ortuño) at Bruno (Juan Carlos Torres), the man who has broken with Gerardo, broken his heart, and imprinted himself forever as the love of Gerardo’s life (that is, Bruno is Love).
The movie really is about a lovestruck adolescent, but the title is misleading in that he is nearly mute and not at all given to poetic ejaculations (he traffics in more mundane ones, although he is looking for love more than seeking payment in his many sexual encounters).
As Gerardo, Juan Carlos Ortuño (for whom IMDB shows no other feature-film screen credits) looks “down at the mouth” (forlorn) as he wanders the streets of the world’s most populous city and goes down on men or lets men go down on him for money.
Ortuño is onscreen pretty much every one of the eighty minutes running time; despite many jump-cuts, the minutes pass slowly, and the movie seems much longer than it is by clock time.
Ortuño is a handsome blank-screen onto which to project fantasies, but the audience receives little information about how his “partners” fantasize with and about him, or what (if anything!) Gerardo thinks or feels about them.
There are glimmers of hopefulness of finding a new Love, but mostly he looks and acts depressed as he and his encounters are filmed from odd angles in very arty black-and-white.
Perhaps the budget was too low to include anyone writing dialogue, though the look of chic alienation seems to draw on the precedent of Michelangelo Antonioni, a director not much interested in dialogue and very interested in photographing things, including expressionless and mute human objects in industrial wastelands.
Having placed Hernández in the Antonioni lineage, is it necessary to point out that he does not provide much in the way of plot either? The camera angles recall those of the German New Wave (Fassbinder, Herzog, Wenders, though perhaps Adlon is the most relevant one), but the German directors usually worked in melodramatic plots, whereas A Thousand Clouds is almost entirely atmosphere (again, the title provides some warning of the content!). Given the recurrent images of Gerardo on a freeway overpass, L.I.E. also comes to mind, but that movie also had some plot—and even had character development.
The only comic relief is provided by Gerardo trying to buy a recording of an old, hopeless torch song, the title of which he can’t remember. Since the title is “El último cupé” (The Last Couple) and Gerardo is mostly preoccupied with the breaking up of the one and only coupling (Love in the singular) for him, it’s a bit hard to believe that he doesn’t know the oh-so-pregnant-with-meaning-for-his-outlook title, but Gerardo singing it for sidewalk record dealers provides them (and the audience) some amusement.
Otherwise, A Thousand Clouds spectacularly lack the exuberance of the recent movies from Mexico that have had U.S. theatrical release. It is closer to Our Lady of the Assassins and Happy Together, both filmed in South America, in the level of alienation (though both of them had some plot and considerably more character development…) And for endless love for an undeserving ex, there’s (the also more melodramatic) Lan Yu.
The audience for bleak-visioned, black-and-white movies in Spanish may not be huge, but for those who regard blank-looking humans filmed from odd angles as “art,” this will be a prized find.
First published by epinions, 11 April 2004
©2004, 2017, Stephen O. Murray