From Afar: Top Winner of Venice Film Fest, Brilliant Debut of Venezuelan Director Lorenzo Vigas

from_afar_posterFrom Afar, which won the top jury award (Golden Lion) at the 2015 Venice Film Fest, marks the brilliant debut of Venezuelan director Lorenzo Vigas.

The film’s title seems vague but it is actually accurate in describing the central, richly ambiguous relationship between two vastly different men, which shifts and turns in unpredictable ways, lending the film an aura of mystery, though it is decidedly not a thriller.

It’s hard to think of a recent film that captures middle-age loneliness, ambivalent sexuality, and emotional alienation (from self and others) in more precise and moving ways.


The tale benefits from a sharp but spare scenario, co-written by novice Vigas and vet scribe, Guillermo Arriaga, who was the frequent collaborator of director Alejandro G. Innaritu. penning his first pictures, Amores Perros, 21, and Babel.

from_afar_6On one level, From Afar is a variation of the amour fou genre, here in the shape of an older man yearning and lusting for a (straight?) boy, who is only 17 and thus could be his son and perhaps even grandson.

Though thematically the tale is accessible, artistically speaking, it has the markings of a foreign art film, manifest in the striking imagery of cinematographer Sergio Armstrong, whose controlled style of long takes and static shots emphasize the specific nature of this peculiar bond.  Indeed, Vigas’s use of contrasting POVs and focal camera distances is just as important as the minimal and functional dialogue in shedding light on Armando’s detached outlook on humanity.

from_afar_5The protagonist, Armando, is a seeming quiet fiftysomething man who lives in Caracas, earning a living by making false teeth. The distinguished Chilean actor Alfredo Castro (who has done great work for director Pablo Larrain (Tony Manero, Post Mortem, No), is well cast as a man whose daily existence is not just boring but defined by all kinds defense mechanisms.

He lives modestly on his own, the only other important person in his life is his sister, who is trying to adopt a child with her lover.  Armando has no partner, no children, no love, and no emotional ties and his work as dental technician is not presented as a fulfilling one.

We learn that the siblings’ presence is still scarred by the behavior of their own father, a wealthy and abusive man, from whom they are estranged.

from_afar_4In his spare time, Armando cruises the bus station where young men hang out, looking for quick, impersonal, restrained sex (no physical body contact), with straight boys for which he pays cash before asking them to leave.

Things change, when Armando picks up Elder (Luis Silva), the leader of a gang involved in a feud with the brothers of Elder’s girlfriend. Elder goes back to Armando’s place, and the initial encounter ends in unexpected violence.

The older man has resigned himself to humiliation and theft as part of the price he pays for his loneliness and low self-esteem, which borders on self-hate and lack of awareness of his needs. (The filmmakers play well on the notion of sadistic-masochistic personality).

from_afar_3Armando pursues Elder with committed obsession, based on his feeling that the young boy may be a kindred spirit that needs help, though later on, he would be using the new (and unlikely) friendship to reenact an awful deviant transgression from his own past.

The love affair between Elder and Armando develops, and the former introduces the older likable guy to his family and to his mother. Elder then takes him to a coastal spot where his father used to take him fishing, and their intimacy advances even further.  When Elder finally gets into bed with Armando, the latter tells him, “Don’t get too close,” a statement that’s both ominous in terms of future events, and ironic, as the sex (though wild and passionate) if what would ultimately drive the two men apart.

And there is a poignant dissection of stereotypes, of how we use them against others and also become victims of them. Elder starts out by addressing his daddy figure as “faggot,” only to have the invective thrown back at him once news of his gay romance spreads out among his friends.

from_afar_2The two chief performances, like the whole tale, are richly subtle, multi-nuanced, and full of ambiguities that indicate the pull-and-push forces, the simultaneous need to control and/or to submit, of this particular relationship.


The sudden turn of events in the last act, after Armando makes Elder a scary and risky proposition, which he accepts, is both shocking and heartbreaking.