If this is raging, Judge Bryan Byun would rather go gentle into that good night.
"ÉA visually stunning ode to the nude male form and power of desire."
With a title like Raging Sun, Raging Sky, and a storyline that (according to the back of the case) promises "a passionate exploration of love, sex, and destiny"—with a kidnapping, no less—I was expecting an intense, turbulent ride when I popped in this DVD. What I got instead was a laughably pretentious, self-indulgent film school thesis masquerading as serious cinema. And at three-plus hours, let's just say I left this bullshit buffet stuffed to the gills.
Directed by Mexican filmmaker Julián Hernández (Broken Sky), Raging Sun, Raging Sky wants—no, yearns—no, strains—to be the Mexican Wings of Desire. Shot in black and white, the opening scene has a young woman (a spirit, we soon learn) wandering alone through long, static, meandering shots of a bustling city, wearing the kind of blank expression that's meant to convey naiveté and otherworldliness in movies like this. As she encounters passersby, we hear their thoughts, or rather, we hear the spirit listening to them. Oddly, one of the thoughts we hear is Wim Wenders consulting his attorney regarding suing Hernández for copyright infringement.
The young woman seems to be looking for somethingÉor someoneÉbut we don't know whoÉ or why. Soon (and by "soon" I mean "after approximately half an hour of watching this woman climb up and down stairs while making profound ACTING! expressions every few minutes") she encounters a young man—in a rainstorm, natch—whose blithe spirit seems to be just the thing she was looking for. They retire to his boudoir for some athletic sex. Afterwards, she disappears, but not without (non-verbally) murmuring something about how "there will come a powerful mate for youÉlike a slice of heaven, his vigor will be great." Most of the dialogue in this film is actually non-verbal. Words? Who needs 'em, when the really important things can be conveyed in the universal language—boredom.
And oh, how boring, how truly tedious this film is, at least when watched without the benefit of Schedule I controlled substances or deplorably misguided cinematic tastes. I call Raging Sun, Raging Sky a "film school thesis" because it looks and sounds precisely like something an eager young wannabe auteur would crank out after absorbing several semesters' worth of Italian neo-realism, French New Wave, and New Queer Cinema directors like Derek Jarman and Todd Haynes. Which actually might be interesting if it had anything to say beyond "hooray for love!"
As it is, with its overlong shots of nothing, unending scenes of people doing and saying nothing while lying around being attractively nude, and later on, in a series of dialogue-free sequences that play out like a Carlos Castaneda book adapted by Stanley Kubrick, running around naked through scenes (presented in desaturated, high-contrast color) set in a (distinctly Jodorowskian) desert, Raging Sun, Raging Sky is three hours of movie crammed into about half an hour of actual content.
Watching this film, and drifting off to more entertaining mental landscapes, I thought of 2009's A Single Man, about a day in the life of an English professor in Los Angeles who's recently suffered the death of his longtime partner. That was another stylish, arty film with a meandering plot and in which not a whole lot happened. Yet, I found A Single Man riveting and heartbreaking, whereas this one merely made me want to jam rivets into the director's heart. Why?
Well, for one thing, A Single Man featured some amazing performances, by star Colin Firth and a supporting cast including Julianne Moore and Matthew Goode, while Raging Sun, Raging Sky is populated by blank-eyed automatons so disconnected that it was almost as if I could actually see them responding to shouted offscreen commands by Hernández: "Act sad! Now act happy!"
Secondly, A Single Man was genuinely gorgeous to look at. Even if you hated the movie, you had to appreciate director Tom Ford's visual taste. Julián Hernández? Not so much. Frankly, filming in "black and white" (which in this case is pretty obviously just desaturated color, not true monochrome) is a cheap way to make your art film look "artistic"—it guarantees rapturous exclamations of your film's stark beauty. I'm an admirer of beautiful black and white photography, but this isn't it. And, aside from some interesting camera angles, there isn't a moment in this film that doesn't feel cribbed from a better film or director.
I hate it when people fling the word "pretentious" at any film that dares to reach a little further along the artistic spectrum than When in Rome, but when the shoe fits, it fits. At half its length, Raging Sun, Raging Sky might be of interest to fans of gay cinema as an arty, emotion-driven film with plenty of rough, raw sex and naked bodies. At three hours, though, this overheated, yet strangely enervating bore-de-force is strictly for hardcore fans of arthouse cinema.
Raging Sun, Raging Sky gets a predictably bare bones treatment on DVD, with a minimal, ugly menu and some forced trailers that are actually more interesting-looking than the main feature. The case lies, claiming to offer a "2:35 letterbox" picture (it's non-anamorphic 1.33). Video is fine looking but unremarkable, with a slightly grainy, low-contrast (in the B&W scenes) picture—very grainy and high-contrast (by design) in the color scenes. Audio is a disappointment, a flat, dull stereo mix that was clearly intended to be more immersive (especially in the scenes involving the young spirit woman).
There will come a verdict for you, Raging Sun, Raging Sky. That
verdict will beÉguilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
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