REVIEW: From Afar

12 06 2016

From Afar Desde Alla poster“How could he?” It’s telling that, in a post-screening talkback, writer/director Lorenzo Vigas asked this question of the final turn in his film rather than a more neutrally-worded variation like, “Why did he?” His “From Afar” (“Desde Alla”) is among the breed of film that constantly invites us to project our judgments onto the characters while somehow withholding it internally.

The Venezuelan protagonist, Alfredo Castro’s enigmatic Armando, is among the blandest and most wishy-washy middle-aged men to (dis)grace the screen. His closet seemingly holds only a single pattern of button-down shirt. He carries around resentment from past familial trauma, though it never really manifests in any kind of affect. He lacks social ties of any kind. He even denies himself sexual intimacy, choosing to pay to pleasure himself while looking at younger naked men … from afar.

This colorless existence begins to change when one such boy for hire, Luis Silva’s Elder, violently rebels against his objectification. He punches Armando in the face and steals a few trinkets on the way out the door. For most people, this would serve as a warning sign to back off and leave the person well enough alone. Not Armando.

In fact, the attack draws him in all the more to this ruffian. With a “Vertigo“-like voyeurism, Armando begins to tail Elder so that the two of them can strike up some kind of relationship. It’s not romantic, not physical, not paternal – just some weird variation of companionate. Elder, once he gets over his instinctual homophobia, proves all too happy to indulge the bizarre desires of his older suitor if it means free food that he can slovenly slurp up.

Luis Silva Alfredo Castro Desde Alla

“From Afar” begins to play out like a series of foils – repressed desires manifesting in middle-aged impotence against hyped-up bravado fueling a teenage virility, for example. Reluctant desirer against willing object. These roles mostly derive from their paternal-filial dynamic, though things take a darker turn when that bond starts taking on a sexual charge.

The shifting sands of the film come as quite a surprise given that Vigas resolutely underplays larger thematic significance. His aesthetic focuses on the fine details of any given setting, accompanied by mundane source sounds. Planes of the frame are often left out of focus. It’s just these characters, this odd relationship, this tense transformation – and us watching it all unfold, only slightly less capable than anyone in the film from stopping the inexorable explosion. B+3stars

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