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'El Cielo dividido' (BROKEN SKY) is a daring, experimental film from Mexican writer/director Julián Hernández and as such it is bound to polarize audiences. Some will fault the film for self-indulgence while others will praise the bravery of a film of this topic to come from a country not exactly known for its flexible social attitudes.
Julián Hernández focuses on the history of a first love and without using dialogue he tells his story simply with silent actors, minimal narrative comments which serve as program notes, music, and ravishingly beautiful photographic composition. Gerardo (Miguel Ángel Hoppe) opens the film, a solo youth wandering what appears to be the streets of Mexico City finally ending up in an open amphitheater where his eye glimpses another lone youth Jonas (Fernando Arroyo) sitting staring into space. Gerardo wanders over to him, sits beside him, gains the courage to touch his shoulder, Jonas responds glowingly - and love begins. Through the next scenes we find the couple making love both in bed and in unexpected public places including the stacks of the library of the school where they both are students -and where another pair of eyes enters: Sergio (Alejandro Rojo) watches longingly as Gerardo and Jonas kiss and display an aura of passion Sergio obviously longs for.
The new couple share many experiences, all bathed in love, until they eventually go to a disco: Jonas dances with an enchanted Bruno (Ignacio Pereda) and a trace of chemistry is generated, a fact that Gerardo, watching the boys dance, senses and is disturbed. A crack is created in their bliss and that crack only widens as they each have mixed responses to what they perceive is escaping. Gerardo encounters the winsome Sergio and the two bond physically, a fact that forces Jason to reevaluate his initial feelings for Gerardo.
All of this story is told without dialogue of words but with a very strong dialogue of eyes. Director Hernández seems to want to share how love is an internalized emotion, only demonstrated with physical intimacy, but fragile as a newborn in its vulnerability to wounds. Cinematographer Alejandro Cantú finds stunning settings and lighting and sensitive explorations of love making that never exceed tasteful states. His manner of showing time elapsing is to pan walls within a room that serve as flashbacks and flash-forwards as a means of carrying the story forward. Film editor Emiliano Arenales Osorio uses some very creative techniques to keep the viewer guessing as to whether we are observing fact, fantasy, present or past. And the musical score by Arturo Villela deftly maintains the minimalist stance with simple phrases by cello, harpsichord, and violin, saving the passion expression for the use of Dvorák in Rusalka's 'Song to the Moon' as ravishingly sung by Renée Fleming All of those praises being said, the major reason this film doesn't retain an audience base is its length: it is 140 minutes long, repetitive, and would have been much more powerful had it been cut to 90 minutes at best. It is far too visually stunning a piece of work to step beyond the patience of an audience happy to see the birth and blossoming and challenges of a first love between two beautiful young men. The actors are indeed a pleasure to watch, but in this case less is more. One wonders what Julián Hernández will create next. He deserves applause for this experimental film but hopefully will learn from its tendency toward self-indulgence. Grady Harp
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