An audience award winner at 2010’s Sundance Film festival, Undertow (Contracorriente, in Spanish) is the feature length directorial debut from Peruvian filmmaker Javier Fuentes-León. Lusciously shot in Peru’s Cabo Blanco fishing village, it’s a magic realism love triangle fable, tugging a little too hard on your heartstrings.
It’s the story of Miguel (played by Cristian Mercado), a young fisherman living with his heavily pregnant wife Mariela (Tatiana Astengo). The picture-perfect couple, Miguel leads a second life as the lover to the village’s token, openly gay man, painter Santiago (Manolo Cardona). With the families newest arrival soon approaching, plus a fatal sea accident with ghostly consequences, Miguel goes through turmoil; losing grip on reality as he attempts to live two conflicting lives.
Far from being just another Brokeback Mountain, gay cash-in film, what is most thought-provoking in this sensitive romance drama is the stories’ incongruity to the setting. Although Peru is presented as a small paradise, homosexuality is still regarded as taboo; making Miguel’s struggle with polyamory and piety all the more sympathetic.
Some overtly poetic imagery and excessive use of underwater shooting aside, Undertow lives comfortably in it’s 100 minute running time. The naturalistic, affecting performances from it’s three main players make for a powerful, sea-breezily paced movie.