Movie Review - From Afar (Desde allá)

Writer-director Lorenzo Vigas' feature debut was based on a story from Oscar-nominee Guillermo Arriaga (Babel and 21 Grams). It premiered at the 2015 Venice Film Festival where it won the Golden Lion, which is the top prize at that Italian destination. The film is set on the streets of Caracas, Venezuela. It focuses on a middle-aged man with supposedly same-sex attractions, yet it's not clear if he's actually gay, and it also focuses on a boy, probably a teenager with whom he forces a relationship.

Alfredo Castro stars as Armando, the middle-aged man who works as a prosthodontist, or he makes dentures. It doesn't seem like he puts them in people's mouths. He simply makes the false teeth and sells them. During his breaks or time off, he follows young men walking around the city or waiting for a bus, so he can proposition them. He flashes a lot of cash at them. He then takes the boys to his apartment, asks them to undress with the boy's back facing Armando and masturbates across the room without ever touching them.

The question becomes why. Why does Armando engage in this behavior? He doesn't touch the boys. He merely masturbates, while they stand partially nude across the room. Why go through the trouble of following them and bringing them to his home when he could just pay for porn? He must want more from these boys and their physical presence, which isn't ever explained. Why does he practically stalk them following what seems like random boys on the street? It's not as if he goes to a gay bar and then picks up a boy there. No, in the daytime, he merely follows some random, street kid that he sees. Again, why? It's highly risky and dangerous. How does he even know these random kids are even gay or would be desperate enough to go home with him or be civil enough not to hurt him?

Vigas' film comments on homophobia, which is appropriate because in terms of what rights LGBT people have, Venezuela is one of the worst countries in South America. There are gay bars in Caracas, and people can be gay without outright incrimination. There's also some employment protection, but Venezuela is a Roman Catholic country. There are no anti-discrimination laws otherwise. There's no gay adoption. There's no gays allowed to serve openly in the military, and there's no same-sex marriage. All of this isn't pronounced, but it perhaps can be felt in moments when people shun someone for a same-sex kiss or use gay slurs.

Luis Silva co-stars as Elder, the teenage boy in question. He's most likely of legal age but does at times feel like jail-bait. His initial encounter doesn't endear him. He too throws gay slurs. He's clearly a thug who also beats up and robs people. He has a girlfriend, but yet we're supposed to believe he develops feelings for Armando.

If he did develop feelings for Armando, then exploring those feelings might have been interesting, but Vigas drags his feet until the very end and then in no time he ends it in a very puzzling way. Armando commits an action that is unclear if it's done out of fear and shock, or if he had planned it from the beginning. It's confusing and not in the appreciative way.

At its core, this movie mimics other movies with an old man connecting to a young man with homoerotic themes. Many LGBT movies have had this conceit. Recent examples include Eastern Boys (2015) and Boulevard (2015). Both those movies are problematic for the same reason this one is. It doesn't get me inside the head of the older guy much at all.

Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains violence, nudity and sexual situations.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 33 mins.
Available on Netflix Watch Instant.


Popular Posts