Short Takes: From Afar

(Lorenzo Vigas, Venezuela/Mexico, 2015)

Picked up on the streets of Caracas and brought to a fussily decorated apartment, a young man reluctantly takes off his shirt and lowers his briefs as commanded. The seated older man who’s giving the instructions, Armando (Pablo Larraín fixture Alfredo Castro), dispassionately pleasures himself (out of frame). There’s an impersonal, almost antiseptic quality to the sexual encounter that opens Lorenzo Vigas’s oppressively quiet From Afar: Armando’s face doesn’t betray lust as much as a listless fascination with the boy’s lithe body.

Later, Armando’s run-in with another young pick-up, Elder (Luis Silva), turns violent as the swaggering teen hurls homophobic insults and a right hook at the unsuspecting if unruffled older man. Soon, though, the pair begin an uneasy relationship that echoes well-worn hustling narratives from both film and literature. Genet, Capote, and Rechy, among others, have all enshrined in the gay cultural imagination the scenario of the pathetic older man who is both seduced and appalled by the violent/tender young (and ostensibly straight) tricks he brings home.

Laced through that trope, as is the case here, is an obvious Oedipal dynamic. But in his glacially paced debut feature, Vigas never quite mobilizes the alienating distance evoked by the title to particularly illuminating ends; it all remains too remote, too removed, even when the characters and narrative reach a putatively surprising but sterile climax.