Tuesday, December 13, 2016

From Afar (2016)

Film: From Afar (2016)
Stars: Alfredo Castro, Luis Silva
Director: Lorenzo Vigas
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 5/5 stars

Sex is not something that is easily handled at the movies.  It's something that is frequently glossed over in favor of a conversation about love or romance or vengeance.  A supporting player, if you will.  I have never seen a film that approaches it in the way that From Afar does, though, and that's saying something in an era where Blue is the Warmest Color and Stranger by the Lake have steamed up the art house set in a way few domestic films could possibly do.  Sex here is a weapon, but not the one you normally expect it to be, and in a dark noir film, one that finds unusual places to turn up in the process.

(Spoilers Ahead) From Afar tells the tale of Armando (Castro), a wealthy prosthodontist who lives a relatively solitary but wealthy existence in Caracas.  Aside from his unusual job, his defining traits are a near constant silence and his homosexuality, which manifests itself into picking up street prostitutes and asking them to pose while he pleasures himself.  One day, he meets a young street tough named Elder who robs him during their interaction, and as a result they begin to develop a relationship, which turns deadly as Elder slowly is drawn into Armando's world, and even ends up killing his father, not for money, but as a crime of passion because he has become emotionally attached to Armando.

The film's sexual politics are, in my opinion, what makes it work so well.  The movie follows Elder, who is likely gay or at least bisexual (we get the sense in select scenes that Armando's existence hits a bit close to home for him, which is why he resists the interactions so furiously early in the picture), and Armando, who has come to terms with his sexuality years ago but has become so detached he isn't willing to take risks in his life that aren't deeply premeditated.  The film's climactic scenes late in the picture, with Elder fulfilling Armando's longest-held wish, to kill his emotionally distant and likely abusive father, and then finally giving in to Elder's advances by having sex with him, but only to then betray his trust by turning him over to the police-it's a mesmerizing and shocking final few minutes of the film.

The film's sexual politics are not just about the forbidden, but about power and money.  Class runs heartily through the film, with Elder clearly of a different caste system than Armando, and so now not only is he opening up a world of sexuality to the younger man, but also giving him a taste of a better life.  It's why the final moments, considering Elder has abandoned everything (his family, his friends, his entire life) in the hopes of a more honest existence with himself, but also for some sense of financial security, are so devastating-in the end Armando gets his long-held wish of a dead father, and likely with it a massive inheritance, but in the process he sacrifices his only chance at happiness, not realizing he might have been able to have both revenge and joy, and settling for something he's more comfortable with, which is simply his original plan.  It's a tough commentary, but it's brought to life by deeply naturalistic work from both Castro and Silva, the former of whom is a fixture in South American cinema while the latter was a recent find.  Honestly, this is the best noir film I've seen all year, and one that I would highly recommend.

For those of you who have seen the picture, what were your thoughts, particularly about the ending which was a jaw drop to me?  Share your thoughts below in the comments!

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