#267: Undertow (2009)

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.

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PS – If anyone feels  like taking me on an all-expenses-paid holiday to Cabo Blancho I’ll willingly accept. I’m free from the 3rd of always.

#250: Brotherhood (Broderskab) (2009)

How do you find sympathy for two neo-nazis struggling with their conflicting homosexual desires? It’s a paradox that Copenhagen based filmmaker Nicolo Donato wrestles with in his feature length debut Brotherhood (Broderskab, in Danish). A troubling film which mixes melodrama and soft-core porn to confuse audiences’ perceptions on these polemical characters.

After being thrown out of the army following an accusation that he was caught flirting with fellow officers, Lars (Thure Lindhardt) is left without identity or purpose in life. Initially hesitant, he is recruited into the Danish nationalist group by the the rotund, persuasive board leader Michael, aka Fatty (Nicolas Bro).

Welcomed into the fold, Lars becomes a roommate to one of the core members, Jimmy (David Dencik). Living in decrepit beach shack owned by the fraternity boss, the pair eventually fall in love. A secret they struggle to keep behind closed doors as they join their group on nighttime attacks on gays and refugees.

Inspired by a documentary about a fetishistic German neo-nazi culture, Donato and co-writer Rasmus Birch’s Brotherhood hinges on the exploits of love in a social war-zone. It’s a theme that has been tackled many times before, none more-so similar than Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. Like Gyllenhaal and Ledger, central performers Lindhardt and Dencik’s portrayal of raw sexual urges and desire is magnificent. However, unlike that superior film, Donato picks such an atrocious context to hang this tender, venturing to irksome love story, that it’s extremely difficult to have any compassion for the soul-mates’ plight. A riff on Romeo and Juliet‘s misunderstood love, Brotherhood‘s closing moments are expectedly tragic and overblown.

Narrative problems aside, Brotherhood is a technical delight. Laust Trier-Mørk’s handheld cinematography has that claustrophobic throwback quality akin to Denmark’s Dogme 95 movement; filming the night of passion scenes objectively, but never cheapening or exploiting the marvellously bold performers. Jesper Mechlenburg’s muzak soundtrack is equally omnipresent, without ever being so overtly emotive as the treacly story line.

Embracing the same brazen attitude that many Danish artists have brimming from their fingertips, Donato’s hands-on approach to direction and difficult subject matters shows a great deal of promise. But Brotherhood relies too heavily on audiences to be emotionally engaged with unlikeable characters, an issue that, at its best, can only make for an impassive viewing experience.

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