The agonies of love take poetic flight in the Mexican film "A Thousand Clouds of Peace Fence the Sky, Love, Your Being Love Will Never End." The feature debut of writer and director Julian Hernandez, a fine new talent and precocious aesthete -- the impossible title comes from a poem by the late poet-filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini -- this wisp of a movie carries the weight of its grandiloquence easily. Graced with a shimmering visual style and sense of lyrical self-consciousness that owes a debt to French visionary Jean Cocteau, the modest film provides further evidence of Mexico's recent cinematic renaissance.
As in Cocteau's 1930 masterpiece "The Blood of a Poet," in which the filmmaker sought to picture the inner life of a poet, Hernandez sets out to give visual shape to an interior state. After 17-year-old Gerardo (Juan Carlos Ortuno) and his lover (Juan Carlos Torres) part ways, the adolescent begins moving through life as if in a trance. He drifts through the streets, casting beckoning glances at strangers and periodically submitting to their advances. (As Pasolini wrote, "Sex, consolation for misery!")
His mother (Perla de la Rosa) worries that he looks like a wandering soul (he does), while a cafe waitress (Rosa Maria Gomez) reminds him that only the day before yesterday he was so happy ("Now you are so sad"). Like the sky above, love is everywhere and cruelly out of reach.
Running a fast 80 minutes, "A Thousand Clouds of Peace" works principally as a mood piece, with the gorgeous cinematography doing much of the heavy lifting. Shot by cinematographer Diego Arizmendi in black-and-white film with an eye to chiaroscuro -- here, the whites look hot to the touch, while the blacks look dark enough to get lost in -- the movie is a tribute to the glories of celluloid. It's also a pointed reminder that when it comes to most movies what happens inside a film frame is more important than how the plot unfolds. A man of few words and relatively little action, Gerardo nonetheless emerges as a fully realized character because Hernandez turns the teenager's world -- the depopulated streets, the wide open spaces, his lonely room -- into a landscape of desire.
In its dreamy poeticism and inattention to narrative momentum, "A Thousand Clouds of Peace" feels like a throwback to an art-house cinema moment long lost. At least by the evidence of this one film, Hernandez isn't working on the level of, say, Alain Resnais, whose fractured masterpiece "Last Year at Mariendbad" became a hotly debated cultural landmark in the early 1960s. But like a handful of intrepid filmmakers working today -- including Wong Kar-wai, whose "Happy Together" clearly influenced this feature as much as either Pasolini or Cocteau -- Hernandez seems uninteresting in conforming to standards. The history of Hollywood gives ample proof that there are untold pleasures to be had when filmmakers stick to the three-act template, just as there are other, less obvious pleasures when they don't.
'A Thousand Clouds of Peace'
MPAA rating: Unrated
Times guidelines: Adult themes
Juan Carlos Ortuno...Gerardo
Juan Carlos Torres...Bruno
Perla de la Rosa...Anna
Rosa Maria Gomez...Mary
Released by Strand Releasing. Writer-director Julian Hernandez. Producers Roberto Fiesco. Cinematographer Diego Arizmendi. Editors Emiliano Arenales Osorio, Jacopo Hernandez. Production designer Carlolina Jimenez. Makeup Elvia Romero. Sound Aurora Ojeda, Enrique Lopez Rendon. In Spanish with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.
Exclusively at Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500, and Laemmle's Pasadena Playhouse, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500.