Lorenzo Vigas’s From Afar (Desda Allá) is a mesmerisingly elliptical, tense psychological study of a dark relationship.
Don't Get Too Closeby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
In Caracas, middle-aged dental technician Armando (Alfredo Castro, Chilean star of Rodrigo Susarte’s Ventana and soon to be seen in Pablo Larrain’s Neruda) cruises for young men in the streets of poor areas of the city, offering them wads of cash to come home with him. Instead of physical contact, he gets his sexual satisfaction by just looking at their half-naked bodies and masturbating. When he picks up tough, aggressive Elder (dynamic newcomer Luis Silva), the balance of these encounters changes. Although violent, homophobic Elder knocks him out and steals his wallet, Armando doesn’t seek retribution – it doesn’t seem like the first time this humiliation has happened to him with a pick-up – but instead he keeps quietly stalking and watching Elder with almost unnerving stillness. He persists in trying to befriend him, even though Elder is violent, feral and continues to try to steal from him. Despite this, when Elder is beaten up, Armando seeks him out and takes him into his home and cares for him.
The film is an intriguing exploration of the changing power balance between the two. They bond unexpectedly over the disastrous relationship each has had with their father. Receiving what he thinks is affection for the first time in his life, as Armando shows him wider possibilities in life, Elder experiences new sensations. He very gradually becomes vulnerable, seeking Armando’s approval and being open even to sexual fluidity, whilst Armando remains inscrutable. Armando’s motives are unclear, though the ending may hint at them through a twist in the tail. Their relationship becomes an undefined swirling mixture of lover and father and son in an unspoken struggle that constantly changes.
Viga’s camerawork focuses in closely on Armando, shallow focus blurring the background, using a dirty pastel colour palette to show the run-down streets and murky, dingy interiors. There are numerous long takes, often where the camera lingers even though a character has exited. A single, intimate scene as Armando and Elder sit on rocks by the sea in a location that has meaning for Elder is a sharp contrast to tensions of the hot, dusty city. Castro is often shown in profile in extreme close-up, only one eye visible, quietly and contained watching. The reasons for his repression are only hinted at in a conversation with his sister – their father has just returned to Caracas and clearly there is some childhood trauma for them both associated with him. Armando watches him too as he moves around the city, even sharing a lift with him at one point, but with no word spoken and the father is out of shot. In fact, dialogue is sparse thoughout the film – viewers need to fill in the blanks for themselves. The shifting dynamics of the relationship between Armando and Elder are shown visually – Silva’s body language and Armando’s sole half-smile. Who is the dominant partner in this relationship? The screenplay is by Viga, scripted from a story he wrote with Mexican novelist, director and Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga.
Venezuelan Lorenzo Vigas has made an adventurous, stylish and emotionally disturbing first film and a debut for a Venezuela/Mexico co-production. It won the top prize, the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2015.
From Afar is released on 1 July 2016 in the UK