Magazine article Screen International

'From Afar': Review

Magazine article Screen International

'From Afar': Review

Article excerpt

Dir. Lorenzo Vigas. Venezuela-Mexico 2015. 93 mins

Whatever he goes on to do next, Venezuelan director Lorenzo Vigas has already made history. His From Afar is not only the first feature from his country to play in Venice's main competition, it also thrashed all comers - including much-liked titles by the likes of Alexander Sokurov and Amos Gitai - to win the festival's coveted Golden Lion. This was a hardcore cinephile choice from a jury heavily laden with serious auteurs (including Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Lynne Ramsay, Nuri Bilge Ceylan and president Alfonso Cuaron). It's hard to begrudge Vigas his laurels, as gay drama From Afar is accomplished and compelling; even so, this is arguably a premature award for a talent whose best work, one suspects, lies ahead of him. At any rate, the Lion - and an imposing lead by art-house hero Alfredo Castro - will boost exports for this tough, downbeat psychological study. Among other festival prospects, it's a must for LGBT events, where its equation of gay desire and violence may stir controversy.

Former documentarist Vigas scripted From Afar from a story he wrote with Mexican novelist, director and Amores Perros screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga - one of several luminaries on board as producers and execs, including Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez and Mexican directors Michel Franco and Gabriel Ripstein. It is set in Caracas, where a middle-aged gay man, dental prosthetics technician Armando (Castro), cruises the streets and buses for young working-class men.

He pays them to accompany home, but gets his kicks simply by watching them pose half-naked. One such pick-up turns nasty, as street tough Elder (Silva) gives Armando a brutal thrashing. Even so, Armando - his glacial exterior obscuring motives that the film doesn't spell out - tracks the boy down, and they begin a prickly rapprochement. Armando eventually becomes a sort of surrogate uncle to Elder when the latter falls foul of his girlfriend's brothers: the film is graphic about the volatile nature of Caracas street life.

The point comes when From Afar appears to promise some traditional emotional rewards; but when Elder invites Armando to accompany him to a family birthday, and introduces him to his mother (Jerico Montilla), the boy falls foul of the homophobic worldview that, till now, he's subscribed to. …

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