Monday, June 6, 2016

Lorenzo Vigas' mysterious FROM AFAR explores the dangers of becoming close

How very similar seems the new Venezuelan movie, FROM AFAR (Desde allá), to Robin Campillo's fine French film Eastern Boys, in which an older man trolls an urban hub to find young men to engage in sex, which leads to a relationship developing between him and one of the boys he meets. Yet by the finale of this relatively quiet, thoughtful and very disturbing film, the two movies could hardly seem more different in outcome and moral. Both are excellent examples of cinematic works that rise above their genre -- if, that is, you must place them in the GLBT category at all (they are both more inclusive that merely that) -- because both are built around and depend upon the personality, behavior and needs of their main characters.

In the case of From Afar, which was written and directed stunningly well by Lorenzo Vigas (shown at left), our protagonist is a fellow whose greatest sexual pleasure comes from having his boy face the wall then pull down his pants (uncovering only maybe two-thirds of his ass), while across the room he masturbates to this view. No eye contact at all. When one new encounter goes wrong and then begins to oddly right itself by developing into a relationship, that path taken by Eastern Boys again comes into view. But wait: The lead role in From Afar is played by Alfredo Castro.

This fine Chilean actor and muse of Pablo Larraín (from Tony Manero through last year's The Club), shown above, seems to have nearly cornered the market on dark, quietly demented characters, and here, as a man called Armando, he has been given one of his most interesting and dynamic roles to portray. How Castro handles this -- the twists and turns of the plot, the behavior of the young man (beautifully played by newcomer Luis Silva, below) -- is compelling at every step of the way.

So much in this movie seems both bizarre and appropriate, from Armando's job making dentures to the boy, Elder, and his conflicting responses to Armando. It seems to me that filmmaker Vigas uses as little dialog as possible, and yet via his choice of details and the excellent performances he draws from the actors, he gives us everything we need to understand not just what is going on -- but why. Not least of all this is the role that a long-missing and probably abusive parent plays in the formation of character.

From Afar is Vigas' full-length film debut, and it is one of the most striking I have seen in some time. Consistently riveting, it draws us into the needs and desires of its two protagonists so firmly that we feel enormously for each of them. As French as was Eastern Boys in its philosophical and nurturing approach, this film is South American in its hard-scrapple view of a Venezuela that has only grown more difficult since the movie was shot.

Among other questions the film asks is the seemingly eternal one, Can love be bought? Vigas' answer is Certainly -- but the price for the seller can be even more costly than for the buyer. The changes these two men go through, if viewed via the hands of other filmmakers, might seem phony. Not here. Young Silva imbues each permutation, small or large, with truth, while Castro, an amazingly subtle actor, continues to amass a resume of roles that makes him the go-to son-of-a-bitch of South America cinema. From Afar is first-class movie-making all the way. Don't miss it.

From Strand Releasing, the movie has its U.S. theatrical premiere this Wednesday, June 8, in New York City at Film Forum and will open the following Friday, June 17 in Los Angeles at the Sundance Sunset Cinemas in West Hollywood. To see all currently scheduled playdates around the country, click here and then scroll down and click the Task Bar on the word Screenings

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