Swept Away by Undertow

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I don’t remember when I’ve heard of a film coming out of Peru. If that isn’t enough, I’d be seriously stumped to hear of a Peruvian export that bravely and deftly handle sexual identity. Then the icing on the cake is the film in question, Undertow (actually called Contracorriente), has already justifiably earned last earned last year’s Sundance Audience Appreciation Award and is now being considered as Oscar material for their import film category.

Yet such is the case here, which makes Undertow’s arrival to both the Coral Gables Art Cinema and Boca Raton’s new Living Room Theater an absolute must see.

The film stars Christian Mercado as Miguel, a popular fisherman in a basically anonymous, small fishing village. He’s happily married to Mariela (Tatiana Astengo), who at the beginning of the film is well on her way towards delivering their first child. What the entire village doesn’t realize is Miguel also has his man on the side, a sensitive, rich kid artist named Santiago (Manolo Cardona), who the village apparently despises just on general principle.

At first the film looks like it’s going to take a typical soap opera turn. Santiago wants more out of the relationship. Miguel knows what could potentially happen if the village finds out. Mariela’s hard pregnancy gives a solid reason for her to be clueless. That’s when it takes a turn into the world of magic realism.

That’s because early in the film Santiago first disappears, then becomes only visible to his former lover. That’s when Undertow takes a bittersweet page or two from The Two Husbands of Dona Flores, only this is where the surviving lover’s world truly starts to unravel.

To be honest, kudos should be handed out to Mercado as a man literally haunted by his former lover and coming to consider all the rectifications of his actions. Astengo should also be praised as the woman cuckolded. Her low key but earthy way of learning then coping with her cheating husband is both surprising and refreshing. Cardona’s portrayal of a ghost seeking final peace also has its moments.

Still, what makes the film remarkable is the way director and writer Javier Fuentes-Leon handles both the living and the dead in this absorbing drama. There’s no gimmickry, no cheap effects, running through the entire film. Instead, we are given a fairly down-to-earth consideration of love and death through three particularly vivid perspectives.

So, while this may be the first time I’ve ever heard of a film of any kind coming out of Peru, Undertow is such a wonder one hopes that there are a lot more coming. This is a film that truly going to sweep its viewers away with its handling of both the supernatural and the very, very real.

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