Armando (Alfredo Castro) has lived his entire life from afar. He stands mute and expressionless on the edge of family, appears to have no friends, and works making dentures, a profession requiring little human contact. Even his vice isn’t much of one. He likes men, but he doesn’t want to be with them. Masturbating with an attractive and only partially unclothed guy in sight is enough. What happens when this man, content to always stand apart, is forced into intimacy, forms the subject of Lorenzo Vigas’ confident debut.

Gay life in Venezuela certainly seems no picnic. Homosexuality is the kind of personal revelation that sees friends walk away and family cast you out. It’s behaviour that leaves you open to insults and assault. Armando runs this risk every time he pays someone to come back to his house. He doesn’t want to touch anyone other than himself. He simply asks that they remove their top, pull their trousers down slightly and stand facing the other direction. When he’s finished, they’re paid handsomely. But Elder (Luis Silva) does not take kindly to the suggestion, beating him down and running off with his wallet.

Where another person might chalk it up to experience, or even seek revenge, Armando instead finds obsession. He can’t get Elder out of his head, following him around town. A second attempt leads to the loss of his money but no violence. His wallet returns, empty admittedly, suggesting a bridge has been crossed. From here, Vigas builds out a relationship that is constantly intriguing without managing to quite convince. Elder’s about turn is too sudden, and too complete. It’s hard to understand how he enters Armando’s world as a permanent fixture, even inviting him to a family get-together.

Armando is a different matter. Played with quiet composure by Castro, his struggle, first to track down Elder, and then to handle the attention that starts to come his way, is impressive. From Afar excels every time he pulls out of reach, right through to a starkly final ending that leaves Armando’s expression with the final word.

This all plays out against a fuzzy urban back-drop. Vigas shoots with soft light, giving everything an uncertain feel. His cinematographer Sergio Armstrong, drawing autumnal colours, frames several scenes perfectly. One dinnertime conversation is beautiful, the wide shot side-on splitting Armando and Elder down the middle, before well-judged cuts move between their faces. It’s a moment of great unspoken intimacy, in a film that ultimately struggles to connect.

The trouble with a central character who remains distant, is that it becomes hard to avoid that same trait infiltrating the wider film. Vigas falls prey to this problem, unable to connect Armando and Elder, but there’s enough simmering uncertainty to carry them all through to the end.

Director: Lorenzo Vigas
Stars: Alfredo Castro, Luis Silva, Jericó Montilla
Runtime: 93 min
Country: Venezuela, Mexico

Film Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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