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SIFF ADVANCE: From Afar - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B-
Acting: B+
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B
Editing: B-

From Afar is a surprisingly compelling film for one that goes at the slow pace it does, with its many scenes that go on several beats longer than any American film would tend to. This one comes from Venezuela, though, and has a title that certainly seems apt: there's a clear distance established and maintained between the audience and the characters seen onscreen. Motives are often a complete mystery.

One might call this a gay May-December romance, except that it's really not romantic at all. Armando (Alfredo Castro) is a fifty-year-old man who approaches young men on the streets of Caracas and offers them money to come back to his place and partially disrobe so he can jerk off while just looking at them. We see him at work several times in this movie, which establishes that Armando repairs dentures for a living, and apparently that must pay quite handsomely. This guy throws cash around like it grows on trees.

But when Armando picks Elder (Luis Silva), he gets a little more than he bargained for. Elder is a fairly macho young man who has a bit of gay panic, and knocks Armando out with one of his own shelf statuettes before he gets a chance to see him pull his pants down. Elder robs Armando of all his cash and his wallet, and likely fully expects to go on with the rest of his thug life. In one scene, he and a couple of friends beat the shit out of his girlfriend's brothers with pieces of pipe. We never find out what this was apparent retribution for; we only discover later that they get back at him again.

By then, Armando has already gone looking for Elder again. He lures him back to his home with more money. He doesn't even ask for anything sexual this time. He later takes him out to lunch, where Elder eats like a famished pig. And then, when Armando finds Elder unconscious and bloody, he takes him to his home again and nurses him back to health.

After the early scene in which Armando jerked off to the exposed ass of the first guy, the story trajectory of From Afar is curiously devoid of anything sexual in nature. Armando seems to develop a more paternal relationship with Elder. But, over time, Elder finds himself developing an actual attraction to him. He even forcefully makes a pass in the bathroom at a family member's birthday party he brings Armando to, which Armando surprisingly and violently refuses.

This is a well-shot and well-acted movie, but I found myself often mystified by what makes these characters do the strange things they do, both to themselves and to each other. My best guess is that Elder is developing feelings for this man who takes an unusual interest in his well-being. Director Lorenzo Vigas seems to suggest we should feel Armando's motives are entirely sexual and not at all romantic in nature, but in that case, why go so far out of his way to nurse him back to health, with no apparent sexual advances in the meantime?

We don't find out enough about either of these characters. The actors do extremely well with what little they're given, and it's easy to care about what happens to them, even if you don't quite understand them. But I'd sure like to know why Armando keeps secretly following his dad who he apparently hates. Or what exactly is going on with Elder's girlfriend's brothers. This girlfriend has a baby, which I presume is Elder's, but after seeing the baby twice briefly in its home (once with no parents at all around), the child is never even mentioned again. Armando and Elder just continue building this strange relationship as though the kid doesn't exist.

And then a twist comes at the end with a truly surprising coldness, and it doesn't seem in keeping with the character arc thus far. I guess you could say I don't really get this movie. And yet, there's something about it that's sticking with me. It's almost certainly easier to appreciate with repeat viewings. But I won't be watching it again.

Luis Silva and Alfredo Castro have wildly disparate lives that intersect FROM AFAR.

Overall: B-
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