Undertow [Contracorriente]

"Excellent"

Undertow [Contracorriente] Review


This sensitive and thoughtful Peruvian drama addresses the thorny issue of Latino machismo with a story that blends gritty honesty with magical realism.

It also takes a remarkably astute look at sexuality from a uniquely telling angle.

Miguel (Mercado) is a natural leader in his coastal fishing village, with strongly respected religious beliefs and a loving wife, Mariela (Astengo), who's about to give birth to their first child. But Miguel has a secret: he's in love with his childhood friend Santiago (Cardona), who has returned as a photographer-painter, immediately arousing the suspicion of the old guard.

Miguel believes that to be a real man he needs to be a husband and father, and Santiago is getting impatient to run off together. Then fate steps in.

What happens from here involves a surreal twist that allows the men to live a sort of idealised open romance in the village. And while this is superficially happy, it's also profoundly sad, as any hint of homosexuality is simply banished from thought in this culture. Where the story goes next brings this out with bleak, emotional honesty as everyone struggles to cope with the truth, but no one seems willing to say what needs to be said.

The isolated seaside setting adds to the movie's otherworldly quality as its characters struggle to escape their culture, as if they're trapped on a deserted island. References to the more tolerant outside world are rare, while the sunny, dusty village sits in contrast to the tropical idyll of the lovers' private cove with its cool caves and dangerous reefs. Against this background, the actors are able to breathe real life into their characters, adding layers of subtext and complexity that are rare for this kind of drama.

And while the plot may seem melodramatic, and perhaps a bit too dark and heavy, the film has real visual and thematic depth. Everyone in this story feels both like an integral part of their community and an outcast, and the result is that the film makes us as an audience experience these feelings as well. And in the end, writer-director Fuentes-Leon takes the story further than we expect, with an extended final coda that drags on a bit but makes even more potent comments that are relevant in any society.



Facts and Figures

Genre: Foreign

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director: Javier Fuentes-Leon

Producer: Javier Fuentes-Leon, Rodrigo Guerrero

Starring: Tatiana Astengo as Mariela, Manolo Cardona as Santiago, Cristian Mercado as Miguel

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