From Afar (2015)

Review #1,269

Director:  Lorenzo Vigas
Cast:  Alfredo Castro, Luis Silva, Jericó Montilla
Plot:  Armando, a 50 year man, seeks young men in Caracas and pays them just for company.  One day he meets Elder, a 17 years boy that is the leader of a criminal gang, and that meeting changes their lives forever.

Genre:  Drama / Crime
Awards:  Won Golden Lion (Venice).
Runtime:  93min
Rating:  R21 for homosexual theme
International Sales:  Celluloid Dreams

Coming right from the Chilean school of Pablo Larrain, From Afar adds to the growing chorus of South American arthouse films that emerged with a characteristic self-assuredness since the late 2000s.  As a feature debut, Venezuelan director Lorenzo Vigas shows confidence in his material to work cinematically. 

While it doesn't completely sparkle on the screen, there is a kind of tightly-controlled filmmaking that provides the picture with an undercurrent marked by tension and taboo – the craft immediately reminded me of Larrain's Post Mortem (2010), a film that makes a political statement on the 1973 Chilean coup.

Shot by Larrain's director of photography Sergio Armstrong, and starring his acting muse Alfredo Castro, From Afar is possibly one of the few films to emerge from Venezuela with international credibility – its Golden Lion win at the Venice Film Festival surprised many, though in all fairness the prestigious award is an affirmation of the cinema that is evolving in the region, shining even greater light on emerging filmmakers, and giving cinephiles reason to explore, in this case, Venezuela’s capital city Caracas.

As the country’s commercial and cultural center, Caracas forms the backdrop of the movie.  We see long queues of people waiting to get their basic necessities from a shop, or delinquent youths hanging about on the roadside, part of a larger gang that we don’t bear witness to.  Everything seems all right, but under the façade lies a nation struggling to serve her citizens. 

In this climate, Castro plays Armando, a gay man who is afraid of intimacy, perhaps due to a childhood trauma as suggested by the film.  He pays young men to come to his apartment, but it is not for sex.  Rather, it is to pleasure himself – he would ask his subject to face away from him and lower his pants slightly, a sight that proves erotic for Armando, who masturbates… from afar.

One day, he meets a 17-year old boy who is part of a gang, and their meeting changes both their lives irreversibly.  From a storytelling perspective, Vigas’ film is stripped bare of any excess, and then some.  The drama is elliptical, and the characters’ motivations are often ambiguous.  As audiences, we are forced to make connections, to find reasons for action or inaction, up till the puzzling, unexpected ending. 

From Afar will reward viewers who are looking for films that don’t spoon-feed or regurgitate a familiar narrative.  Its restrained and sparse filmmaking style, a marker of Vigas’ assured ability as a director, may prove challenging to some, but really this is a debut to suggest great things to come from him. 

Verdict:  Restrained, sparse and tightly-controlled, Vigas’ assured directorial debut will reward viewers looking for an ambiguous, elliptical gay drama.


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