Undertow

20 08 2010

Undertow (Contracorriente)

Synopsis: It’s the end of Brokeback Mountain meets Ghost (as Xtra West accurately put it).  A married and soon-to-be father fisherman in a Peruvian town deals with the loss of his lover who comes back as a ghost (and not the creepy, scary kind).

Super awesome things: The fantasy aspect of Undertow is what grabbed and hooked me first.  When Santiago, Miguel’s lover, appears at his house and tells him, “I was in the ocean… the undercurrent got me…” I think it’s safe to say everyone’s attention to the film jumped up significantly.  It’s such a twist in plot — because during the first 20 minutes of the film, it seems to be about Miguel’s secret affair with Santiago and how he’ll deal with his loss when Santiago moves away — but it becomes much, much more than that.  Sure, Santiago dies, but he doesn’t really die: he only is visible to Miguel, and only when Miguel thinks of him or calls out for him.  Miguel believes the only way to get his spirit at rest is to perform a traditional Peruvian funeral, complete with releasing the body into the ocean.  The conflict here develops naturally — the more time he spends with Santiago, the more they fall in love (again), and the harder it is for him to let Santiago go, especially when he does come across his body.  Also in conflict is their whole secret affair, and when rumours start to fly that the mysterious painter (Santiago) has artwork of naked Miguel in his house, Miguel’s life is shattered.  Complete with heart-wrenching performances, particularly from Cristian Mercado who plays Miguel, as well as excellent supporting performances from Tatiana Astengo, Miguel’s wife, and Manolo Cardona as the fisherman’s ghostly lover.

There is stunning cinematography of beaches, waves, and the ocean (of course).  But perhaps most interesting, at least to me, was the fantastic use of music in the film.  I’ve read from various places that the best film music is when you don’t notice, and in Undertow, I barely noticed.  It’s very subtle and has the perfect combination of coming in the right parts and of course fitting exactly with what’s happening on-screen. And the ending, though very sad, was the right ending and fit perfectly.

Not so super awesome things: Though not entirely needed, the film doesn’t explain why Miguel is the only one who can see Santiago, nor if any other spirits are also trapped on the island.  I also really wanted to see if Santiago would show up on the photos they took together!  Gah.  That’s just me being picky though because I don’t have much criticism for this film.  I guess I would’ve liked to really be shown just how much Miguel loves Santiago, even though he tells Tiago that he’s a “man” and that he’s macho, so of course he can’t be gay.  We do get him crying, which is nice but… well, I guess that fits in with his character.  I just debated with myself and lost.  Never mind.

Good for watching: if you want to believe that not all ghosts are evil and scary but super hot and you can have sex with them and no one will see.

Overall:  Very well done, and most likely the best and my favourite film out of this year’s Queer Film Festival.  I really hope writer/director Javier Fuentes-León goes far with this, and judging its good reception at Sundance, I think he just might.

Grade: A


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