BFI Flare 2016: From Afar + Theo and Hugo

B F I  F L A R E
L o n d o n  L G B T  F i l m  F e s t i v a l  2 0 1 6

From Afar

Armando [is] an upper middle class 50-year-old living in a poor neighbourhood in Caracas. A professional denture maker, Armando spends his free time cruising the city streets for young men, whom he invites back to his place with the promise of financial reward. One of these young men is Elder, a cocky 17-year-old who assaults Armando during their first encounter. However, Armando continues to find himself drawn to his latest object of desire, developing a curious fascination with him that is soon reciprocated. BFI Flare

Writing about writer and director Lorenzo Vigas' impressive debut isn't going to be easy. I'm still in shock. In fact, the twist in the final act was such a jolt I almost couldn't move from my seat afterwards. Even now, going over those final moments, I'm still thinking, "Wait a minute, he did what?"

But let's rewind a minute. At the core of From Afar are two incredible performances. Alfredo Castro is terrifying as the morose, ponderous Armando, conveying a life of disappointment and failure with posture, a look, and silence. Luis Silva, on the other hand, is positively feral, giving a mesmerising performance that veers from animalistic to crushingly vulnerable. There's another major character here, too: the city of Caracas, a simmering melting pot of humanity spilling across its dirty streets; you feel like you're actually there.

From Afar isn't a romance, or arthouse indulgence. It's a simmering thriller, every minute that ticks away sees the tension ratcheting up. The payoff doesn't disappoint.

Theo and Hugo

I attend a dozen or so screenings at BFI Flare every year, and there comes a point when festival fatigue sets in. However much you love arthouse and indie, after cramming in two or three a day, over several days, you start to go a little nuts. Your patience starts to fray. You might wish for that two hour picture to be half an hour shorter. You see, that old saying "too much of a good thing" is true.

And so we come to Theo and Hugo, which is only ninety minutes long, but feels much, much longer. It opens with a lengthy orgy scene in "the legendary Parisian naked sex club L’Impacte", including real sex acts between our leads (yes, that is one of our leads erect penis. Yes, that is the other lead sucking it.) It's hard to know what the purpose of this is. Anyone, gay or straight, can easily view sex orgies with fantasy porn stars, or even with "real" guys and their flawed physiques. So this scene doesn't present any shock value, even when viewed in the National Film Theatre with hundreds of strangers. Nor is it very sexy. What it is, however, is interminably boring.

What follows - a wander through the streets of nocturnal Paris - isn't much better. Unlike the Caracas portrayed in From Afar, this city is empty, soulless. There's a lot of repetition, contrived false starts, forced angst. It's frustrating, an inversion of the will they, won't they narrative that traditionally builds up to an explosive sex scene. Here, we get the sex scene at the top of the page, and then a whole bunch of faffing around to fill out the rest of the time. Someone goes, then comes back, then goes off. He comes back, and the other one goes. And comes back.

Surprisingly, Theo and Hugo comes from Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau, who directed The Adventures of Felix, one of the KAOS Top 30 Gay Films of All Time. But, overwrought and overlong, Theo and Hugo ain't no Felix.

Perhaps it was festival fatigue on my part, perhaps I might have enjoyed this film on its own - a rainy Monday night, a box of wine... Yeah, that might work. But this time around, Theo and Hugo just weren't a lot of fun to hang out with. And the orgy? Leave it to professional pornographers.

Every year, KAOS reports from the annual BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival. This year, I'll be reviewing twelve films (including a few programmes of shorts). Next time: Glitter Slush Neon Cake.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for being From Afar to my attention.

KAOS said...

It's really incredible. I hope you get to see it!

◄Design by Pocket