How Venezuela's Lorenzo Vigas Embraces Ambiguity in Drama 'From Afar'

Venezuela-  Lorenzo Vigas - Embraces Ambiguity in Drama -From Afar-H 2016
Courtesy of TIFF

"You can have a horrible guy having a great heart and doing good things, too, because life is contradictory. Humanity is contradictory," says the director of the tragic film.

Lorenzo Vigas will not tell you what to feel. In his debut feature, From Afar, Vigas tells the story of Armando (Alfredo Castro), a wealthy, isolated, middle-aged man who makes false teeth for a living and pays young street thugs to accompany him back to his apartment.

Profoundly damaged by what was probably childhood abuse at the hands of his father, Armando has no desire for physical contact; he only wants to watch, and to watch very little. But when he encounters the explosive, unpredictable Elder (newcomer Luis Silva), he can't help but be drawn to the troubled young man.

What follows is a tragic tale of two lonely people desperate for human connection. But instead of melodrama, Vigas offers up just the opposite: With no music, almost no exposition and deliberate framing that sometimes leaves the action off the screen, From Afar lets viewers draw their own conclusions about why these characters do what they do — and how to feel about it.

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"I think ambiguity is very important in filmmaking and in the arts in general, because life is ambiguous," says Vigas. "I think it's important to bring cinema closer to real life."

From Afar draws considerable power from Vigas' decision to play in the margins. It would be easy to regard Armando as a predator who exploits the poverty of the young street thugs of Caracas or to see Elder as a macho young gangster with a penchant for violence. But as in real life, the truth isn't so simple.

"I wanted to avoid all stereotypes," says Vigas. "There is a stereotype of the 'malandro,' the robber, the gang guy. And there is a stereotype that those guys are very tough, very macho, and would never kiss a man. I wanted to find a heart in that gang guy and avoid all those stereotypes, because life is not like that. You can have a horrible guy having a great heart and doing good things, too, because life is contradictory. Humanity is contradictory."

This story first appeared in the Dec. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.