With its economy currently in chaos, Venezuela seems like the last place you’d expect to find an award-winning independent film. Yet there’s From Afar, which won the Golden Lion Award at 2015’s Venice Film Festival and was that nation’s submission for the 2017 Foreign Language Film Oscar. The signs of Venezuela’s ongoing economic and social implosion aren’t heavily evident in the movie, so I’m guessing it was filmed back in 2014 or early 2015 at latest. However, From Afar is not a political nor social commentary; it’s one of those movies you’d expect to make a splash only at festivals and nowhere else.
From Afar centers around the relationship between an 50 year-old named Armando and a young man named Elder. Armando makes dental prosthetics at a shop in Caracas and enjoys financial security; he seems to come from a wealthy family, though he’s estranged from his father. When he’s not working, Armando likes to pick up young men on the street for sexual services — which is how he comes across Elder, the leader of a small-time street gang.
Reluctantly enticed by wads of cash, Elder enters Armando’s life. Though Elder insists he’s not a maricón (“faggot”) like Armando, the two begin to develop a spasmodic, brooding relationship whose true nature remains a mystery until the film’s conclusion. Dialog between the two is sparse, background music is completely absent. This leaves the film pregnant with silence — and questions.
The film is one of those that shows rather than tells, though admittedly what you see is more placid than stimulating. Its color palette is dull, its overall ambience muted. There’s a feeling of obvious artistry present in From Afar — its relatively short 1.5 hour length makes it feel much like one of those film school final projects you see as “Staff Picks” on Vimeo, or perhaps a minimalist novella you’re assigned to read for some Latin American literature course in college.
With all this said, From Afar is well-made, relatively suspenseful, and contemplative enough… but not something that’ll leave a lasting imprint in my mind. It’s admirable such a film has come out despite Venezuela being in crisis, and it’s on par with your regular festival accolades-receiving piece. However, the film’s minimal flavor and depth — though likely intentional and artistically appropriate — restrict its appeal and significance.
From Afar (Spanish: Desde allá)–Venezuela. Dialog in Spanish. Directed by Lorenzo Vigas. First released June 2016. Running time 1hr 29min. Starring Alfredo Castro, Luis Silva, and Jericó Montilla.