Using the blustering Venezuelan capital as a backdrop, director Lorenzo Vigas brings a story of abandonment, violence and love amidst the turbulent streets of Caracas, nabbing in the process the maximum award at the 72nd Venice Film Festival.
A city that is both chaotic and possessor of a bizarre kind of beauty, Caracas lies nestled at the foot of the imposing Avila mountain, and those who have seen it, find it impossible not to feel in awe of the sight that this offers from all angles of the city, a sort of custodian to a place that witnessed the birth of Simon Bolivar, under a blanket of Spanish colonialism and the slow awakening of new possibilities.
It’s no wonder that Venezuelan cinema frequently makes Caracas the epicenter of frequently turbulent and dramatic stories, and those who have lived or been there, fully understand the reason why. In Lorenzo Vigas’ new award winning film From Afar (“Desde Alla”), the story of Elder and Armando the former, a seventeen year old boy from one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, and the latter a middle aged man, who enjoys the comforts of the privileged in a society where the division of social classes is enough reason to fester unspeakable acts of violence, allowing him to enjoy the company of young men but with the absence of physical intimacy.
“I have an obsession with stories that are related to father figures”, Vigas commented in an interview with Art Film File. This film is actually the second installment of a trilogy related to the topic, and it started in 2004 with a short titled “Los Elefantes Nunca Olvidan” (Elephants Never Forget), and it will wrap up with a final feature called “La Caja” (The Box)”. He goes on to say that From Afar is a story of absent fathers and emotional shortcomings, seen in the main character Armando, who had a traumatic relationship with his own father and Elder, is simultaneously in desperate need of a father figure since his own father has been permanently absent from his life., The story is in a way reminiscent of Thomas Mann’s Death In Venice, Armando playing the part of Gustav, the intellectual older man of privileged situation who becomes enticed by Tadzio, a young man that has his parallel in Elder, both becoming an object of unsolicited affection that never crosses the line into a sexual relationship.
“In the film, we see all the social classes that exist in Caracas, which is why we filmed all over the city, from the richest sectors, to the business district, to the poorest neighborhoods of Caracas”, Vigas said. He clarified that even though Caracas is known as one of the most violent cities in the world, filming in dangerous areas was not a major problem. “Of course, you have to have this organized, and we did have security services in place, which was carried out by Rodolfo Cova, my producer, who has plenty of experience filming in Caracas. So we never had any kind of problems.”
Vigas states that From Afar had been in the planning stage for quite some time. “It was a three year process to complete the script, because in between, I began to write a documentary about my relationship with my own father, which took six years to complete. It was in Venezuela, along with my producer Rodolfo Cova and with the help of other close collaborators in Mexico, we finished the script”. Vigas points out that the film was financed by CNAC, Venezuela’s Autonomous National Center for The Cinematographic Arts, a government funded institution that assists in promoting the work of Venezuelan filmmakers.
Regarding the casting process for the two main characters, Vigas claims that he was always clear that he wanted Chilean actor Alfredo Castro for the part of Armando. “I really wanted to work with him, and I was lucky that when he read the script, he loved it and said that he wanted to play the part. Luis Silva I met a few years ago, and back then he was too young to be Elder, but I knew when I met him that he was perfect for the role”.
Did the Venezuelan director expect the film to win the highest award at the Venice Film Festival? “I did believe that we could win an award, because the reviews and the feedback from the press and the audience were very good, so I thought that the film would definitely walk away with something. But winning the Golden Lion was completely unexpected”. He goes on to say that he is incredibly pleased as a Venezuelan to be able to share this achievement with his country. “It makes me particularly happy that this will give momentum to other filmmakers, specially the young who are just starting, that it is possible to achieve recognition. It’s possible now that festivals such as Berlin and Cannes will begin to take an even closer notice of Venezuelan filmmakers, and this is really good news”.