Eye For Film >> Movies >> Undertow (2009) Film Review
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
Although the action of Contracorriente takes place in Peru, were it not for the presence of the sort of folklore and magic realism we've come to expect from recent South America films such as Madeinusa, The Fish Child, The Black Virgin and The Milk Of Sorrow, this story of forbidden love could be set anywhere where a small-town mentality, long-held traditions and gossip prevail.
Miguel (Cristian Mercado) is a fisherman whose life with his heavily pregnant wife Mariela (Tatiana Astengo) seems, on the surface, pretty idyllic. Look deeper, though, and his emotions, like the undertow of the fim's title, are heading far away from the shores of stability and into the arms of incomer artist Santiago (Manolo Cardona). Santiago has an 'urban' sensibility, which means he is comfortable with his sexuality to the extent that his is prepared to be ostracised by this provincial community rather than hide it. It's clear, though, that it isn't the seascapes and breezes that are keeping him here, but his passion for Miguel, even as he is frustrated by the fisherman's closeted existence. But just as Miguel is tied by his traditions, Santiago also finds he has little appetite for breaking up Miguel's marriage to the adoring and blameless Mariela.
Javier Fuentes-León finds a particularly novel way to explore the notion of freedom by striking the illicit couple with tragedy. Santiago dies unexpectedly but, after turning into the best looking ghost since Patrick Swayze drew ectoplasm, Miguel finds this way of doing things has side benefits. Since he is the only one who can see him, they are able to freely walk about hand in hand and Miguel - who has promised to find Santiago's body to help his spirit pass to the other side - begins to have second thoughts. But with whispers on the wind and Santiago's soul in limbo, the spectre of the truth is never far away.
Fuentes-León has a gentle approach. Everything, from sex to death, is implied, nothing explicit, making Undertow much more likely to garner fans outside the traditional lesbian and gay film circuit - in fact, the strength of its mass appeal is borne out by its audience awards at both Sundance and Miami Film Festival. This is a delicate examination of attitudes and social mores, touching on issues of self-hate and betrayal. The actors - particularly the drop dead gorgeous Manolo Cardona as Santiago - are compelling, with all three central characters benefiting from being well-defined and sympathetic. Just as Miguel is torn between the two loves of his life and Santiago is torn between passion for Miguel and a more brotherly strain of love for Mariela, so the viewer also finds the undertow of emotions carries them back and forth on a current of shifting sympathies. Technically, Fuentes-León's scene composition is spot on but it's emotionally where this film really strikes gold. Tissues are a must.Reviewed on: 15 Jun 2010
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