×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Venice Film Review: ‘From Afar’

Lorenzo Vigas' impressive debut charts an unlikely May-December romance with grace, subtlety and tension.

With:
Alfredo Castro, Luis Silva, Jericó Montilla, Catherina Cardozo, Marcos Moreno, Jorge Luis Bosque, Jeralt Jiménez, Felipe Massiani, Auffer Camacho, Ivan Pena, Greymer Acosta, Joretsis Ibarra. (Spanish dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4721400/

Looking, not touching, is the act of choice for a sexually wary gay man in “From Afar,” and his hands-off approach is shared by the expert storytelling in Venezuelan helmer Lorenzo Vigas’ pristinely poised but deeply felt debut feature. Rarely taking the path of cheap exposition where convincing character psychology will do, this smart, unsensationalized examination of the slow-blossoming relationship between a middle-aged loner and a young street tough trusts auds to make the necessary connections in a narrative that merges its characters’ respective father complexes to moving, equivocal effect. Discerningly realized and performed — with its reliable Chilean star Alfredo Castro giving a veritable master class in fine-point anguish — this Venice competish entry marks out Vigas as one of Latin American cinema’s more auspicious arrivals of recent years. 

Given more crossover heft than most Venezuelan fare thanks to heavy Mexican input, “From Afar” boasts some heavyweight names on the producers’ bench, including Guillermo Arriaga and Michel Franco. (Local actor made good Edgar Ramirez takes an executive producer credit.) The pic has something of the emotionally provocative detachment favored by Franco, while the presence of Castro and d.p. Sergio Armstrong helps foster an immediate association with the most formally studied work of their regular collaborator, Chilean auteur Pablo Larrain. In narrative and tone, however, the film’s most obvious companion piece might be French filmmaker Robin Campillo’s 2013 Venice standout “Eastern Boys”: In portraying tentative queer sensuality, both films drift unhurriedly into genre territory.

For all these reference points, Vigas — who cut his directorial teeth on documentaries — arrives on the scene with a style very much his own. From the outset, his manipulation of focus and depth of field is particularly arresting, immediately establishing the alienated perspective of Armando (Castro), a well-off dental prosthetist living in Caracas, who is still haunted by childhood trauma that has prevented him forming many firm relationships as an adult. A graceful, largely wordless opening sequence, meanwhile, establishes that his only sexual encounters are non-reciprocal: Armando regularly procures young working-class men from the street, offering them money to undress while he masturbates.

It’s a risky habit to form in a community that, for the most part, views homosexuality with violent skepticism: When Armando is beaten up in his home by the less compliant Elder (21-year-old discovery Luis Silva), his stoically bruised reaction suggests it’s not the first time such a transaction has gone awry. Yet even in this brief, unpleasant rendezvous, viewers might wonder if they’re mistaken for detecting an intangible frisson of chemistry between this surly, volatile kid and his morose older admirer. Days later, when they run into each other on the street again, it’s clear that Elder’s interest has been piqued.

Using spare dialogue and keen attention to body language, Vigas and the actors chart their subtly growing attraction with delicate push-pull modulations; at one point, it’s Elder who appears the more aggressive seducer, even as he maintains a facade of straight-lad posturing with his friends. A first kiss in a public bathroom is a frenzied, near-animal action; a later sex scene, however, is inestimably more tender than the roughly clumsy moves we saw him try on a notional g.f. earlier. Armando’s assumed role in what becomes, almost imperceptibly, a romantic relationship is ambiguous, though he appears to reluctantly circle the gaping father-figure role in Elder’s life.

Vigas’ closely but quietly observed screenplay is pleasingly short on forced symbolic conclusions; though it’s from a story developed with former Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu scribe Arriaga, the latter’s penchant for elaborate structural ironies is not in evidence here. Viewers are called upon to perform some self-assembly, notably in a growingly crucial subplot involving Armando’s own father, who has resurfaced in the neighborhood after an extended absence. His presence is a point of needling concern to Armando and his sister, who share an unhappy family history. If Armando’s gradual, nervous embrace of Elder stems from an instinct to protect his younger self, the film is never so gauche as to say so. Neither are they inclined to explain themselves directly to each other: Misinterpretation of mutual wishes play into the pic’s fretful, elegantly escalated finale.

The grave-faced Castro is among the most calmly, economically expressive actors in the movies these days. Armando’s lifelong accumulation of hurt, disappointment and self-preserving reticence are carried and compressed in his long, loping gait, unassumingly straight stance and veiled, watchful countenance — on which even a fleeting half-smile briefly changes everything. He’s a wonderfully gentle and generous scene partner for the inexperienced but instantly dynamic Silva: The young actor plays Elder’s uncertain shuffling of selves with disarming vulnerability, conveying the tricky interior sense of a character repeatedly surprising himself.

Craft contributions are immaculate across the board. Isabela Monteiro de Castro’s serenely incisive editing conveys the characters’ shifting, not-always-coordinated degrees of awareness. Armstrong’s fastidious, sunwashed lensing recalls his work on Larrain’s “Post Mortem” in its use of widescreen proportions to position and disorientate human subjects in their environment. His location shooting, moreover, captures much incidental, context-enhancing life on Caracas’ cracked, strident sidewalks.

Popular on Variety

Venice Film Review: 'From Afar'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 9, 2015. (Also in Toronto, San Sebastian film festivals.) Running time: 93 MIN. (Original title: "Desde alla")

Production: (Venezuela-Mexico) A Factor RH, Malandro Films production in co-production with Lucia Films. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris.) Produced by Rodolfo Cova, Guillermo Arriaga, Michel Franco, Lorenzo Vigas. Executive producers, Edgar Ramirez, Gabriel Ripstein.

Crew: Directed, written by Lorenzo Vigas, from a story by Vigas, Guillermo Arriaga. Camera (color, widescreen), Sergio Armstrong; editor, Isabela Monteiro de Castro; production designer, Matias Tikas; art director, Tikas; costume designer, Marisela Marin; sound (Dolby Digital), Mario Nazoa; supervising sound editor, Waldir Xavier; re-recording mixer, Jamie Baksht; visual effects supervisor, Humberto Zamorate Lugo; visual effects, Basa; assistant director, Mario Rodriguez; casting, Beto Benitez.

With: Alfredo Castro, Luis Silva, Jericó Montilla, Catherina Cardozo, Marcos Moreno, Jorge Luis Bosque, Jeralt Jiménez, Felipe Massiani, Auffer Camacho, Ivan Pena, Greymer Acosta, Joretsis Ibarra. (Spanish dialogue)

More Film

  • Suro

    Lastor, ‘The Endless Trench’s’ Irusoin, Malmo Team for Mikel Gurrea’s ‘Suro’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN – Barcelona-based Lastor Media and Malmo Pictures have teamed with San Sebastian’s Irusoin to produce “Suro” (The Cork), the feature debut of Mikel Gurrea and a product of San Sebastian’s Ikusmira Berriak program. The film stars Laia Costa, who broke through with Sebastian Schipper’s “Victoria” and also serves as executive producer, and Pol López [...]

  • Ane

    Madrid’s ECAM Incubator Develops Terrorism Drama 'Ane'

    SAN SEBASTIAN — For the second year in a row, the ECAM Madrid Film School has paired a number of up-and-coming filmmakers with various industry veterans for an Incubator program part of the school broader development arm called The Screen. For its initial edition in 2018, this Incubator selected five feature projects, putting the selected [...]

  • Roma Cinematography

    'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' and 'Roma' Win LMGI Awards for Motion Pictures

    Two major 2018 releases – actioner “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and critics’ darling “Roma” – were honored for film location work by the Location Managers Guild International at a ceremony this evening at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The 6th Annual LMGI Awards also recognized “Chernobyl” and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” [...]

  • Soho House

    Soho House Lands In Downtown Los Angeles

    Warner Music, Spotify and Lyft are poised to welcome a new neighbor to downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District with Soho Warehouse, the third California outpost of the Hollywood-loved members-only club — and the largest North American opening to date. Hot on the heels of the Soho House Hong Kong debut earlier this summer, the private [...]

  • Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider'

    Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider' Gets a Concert/Screening Premiere at Radio City

    In a year full of major 50th anniversary commemorations — from Woodstock to the moon landing — why not one for “Easy Rider,” Dennis Hopper’s hippie-biker flick that was released on July 14, 1969? That was the idea when a rep for Peter Fonda, who starred in the film as the laid-back Captain America, reached out [...]

  • Costa Gavras

    Costa-Gavras and Cast on Nationality, Identity, and Cinema

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Though he’s been based in Paris since 1955 and came up through the French film industry, director Costa-Gavras has never forgotten his roots. “Those who are born Greek,” said the Peloponnese-born filmmaker at a Saturday press conference,  “stay Greek all their lives.” The once-and-always Greek was not just in San Sebastian to [...]

  • Lorene Scafaria, Jennifer Lopez. Lorene Scafaria,

    'Hustlers' Director Lorene Scafaria: 'We Wanted to Treat It Like a Sports Movie'

    The star-studded cast of “Hustlers” didn’t just become strippers in the empowering female-helmed blockbuster — they also became athletes. When speaking to “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, “Hustlers” director Lorene Scafaria explained the extreme athleticism required of the movie’s leading actresses, who all had [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content