A sexually subversive and darkly violent drama set in the perilous streets of Caracas, From Afar (2015), marks the first feature film from Venezuelan filmmaker Lorenzo Vigas, whose gripping debut is self-consciously marked by violent physical beatings, sexual voyeurism and internalized homophobia that vividly characterizes the age discordant relationship the film’s troubled paramours.
The Golden Lion-winning, Spanish-language feature stirring yet coolly narrates the experiences of a troubled, middle-aged man Armando (Chilean veteran Alfredo Castro) and a young, boy from a street gang, Élder (Luis Silva), through their transgressive and complex sexual relationship. The first time 50 year-old Armando, the owner of a dental prosthetics business with a penchant for paying young boys for their company, encounters 17-year old criminal gang leader, Armando does not have the opportunity to use Élder as his masturbatory object – as he does in preceding encounter with a nameless young boy. Instead, the middle-aged voyeur finds himself at the receiving end of brutal beating and a homophobic invective, yet continues to allow himself to be swindled by the young boy, desperately and curiously desirous of the teenager’s company.
The drama possesses the quality of being a deeply intimate work, despite the dissonant relationship between the main characters and the bleak backdrop of the city’s dangerous neighbourhoods. This contrast is embodied in the film’s title, which reflects the sense of separation and disaffection ubiquitous in Armando’s emotionality complex relationship with Élder – although Armando is clearly smitten with the boy, the latter also possesses a rough, tenacious quality and a loneliness with which Armando clearly identifies. In addition to Armando’s occasional sightings and vague musings of his estranged father, the film illustrates a form of affection that features an emotional alienation interwoven with a continual nurturing of this distorted love, a tenderness that is only able to be manifested over this distance.
Vigas’s prowess is in his sensitive illustration of the uneasiness of mismatched coupling through the subtleties of their body language and the prolonged, static lens shots, acutely highlighting the large abyss between the two men which is predominantly characterized by an intense power struggle. Armando accompanies Élder to a family function where he is introduced to the youngster’s family and travels with the young boy to a costal fishing spot which Élder used to frequent with his father, signalling a growing intimacy and openness between the couple, which leads Élder to commit a jarringly perverse act, all in the name of their anomalous love.
Armando’s true, internal desires are left persistently indecipherable and elusive, as his conflicted relationship with the young swindler takes increasingly unexpected and alarming turns. Ultimately, From Afar is at its core a romantic drama imbued with painfully emotive and poignantly redolent sentiments which Virgas sensitively captures in the deeply complex and delicately affectionate relationship.