Undertow (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

Miguel (Christian Mercado) and Mariela (Tatiana Astengo), a happily married couple, were about to have their first child. Santiago (Manolo Cardona), a painter, visited the seaside village to see Miguel. Despite having grown up together in the coast, nobody knew about their secret affair. That is, until Santiago drowned one night and appeared in Miguel’s home as a ghost. Santiago’s spirit wouldn’t rest until he was given a very public burial. Rumors went around that Santiago was a homosexual and nobody wanted anything to do with him. They treated homosexuality as a contagion. They couldn’t even say the word. They used hand gestures to describe such a phenomena. So it was up to Miguel to give his lover a proper send-off. “Contracorriente” was a smart and moving film about a man torn between his identity and tradition. The beginning of the picture established the importance of tradition in Miguel’s community: the residents in the village attended church, they orally read from the bible, and they shared an open form of communication. When their tradition was challenged in the form of Miguel’s sexuality, it was difficult to watch our protagonist’s friends and neighbors turn their backs on him. His closest friends didn’t even bother to drop by when Mariela had her baby. But writer-director Javier Fuentes-León was careful in highlighting the complexity of the village’s situation. They lived in a bubble and it was probably the first time a gay person bothered to stick around despite the judging whispers and lack of eye contact. I liked that it showed people being capable of acceptance. In reality, while some treat a shocking revelation from the perspective of black and white, others just need some time to digest the information. Not every subplot provided a definite solution but there was a sense of closure that tied it all together. Despite not knowing a lot of details about how Miguel and Santigo got together, it was easy to see that their passion for one another ran deep. There was palpable pain when they discussed plans that never came into fruition and when they argued about being tired of pretending not to know each other in public. But the film was also about the love between Miguel and Mariela. There was a special bond between them not just because they were about to have a baby, but because they’ve learned to lean on each other when things became unbearable. Naturally, their bond was tested when Mariela found out the truth about her husband’s bisexuality. The film’s biggest risk was the ghost that only Miguel could see. It could be seen as a literal ghost, but I interpreted the spirit as the leading character’s guilt and anger for not summoning the courage to come out of the closet when his lover was still alive. The risk worked because the director was in control of the message he wanted to portray. I was impressed with “Undertow” because it was emotionally authentic without sacrifing an ounce of its complexity.

3 replies »

  1. i came here to see if you had a review for “Undertow” with Josh Lucas (2004) and when this came up it had 3-stars and I thought this one was the one with Josh Lucas, and I was like “Why did he rate this 3 stars!?”. lol. But then realized you were rating a different film with the same title. This is actually a pet peeve of mine, movie titles using the same name; PICK A DIFFERENT NAME ALREADY. lol. I especially hate it when one title is really good, but the other one is crap, and so when you try to recommend it to someone they don’t know which movie you’re referring to…

    But have you seen the one with Josh Lucas? Wow, talk about a botch-job; the movie had what seemed to be an interesting premise that creates a lot of tension…but then around the end of the first act, it abandons the story, and transitions into a tedious, dull, drawn-out, and pointless turn of events that I only stuck around for anticipating a strong finale….which was ALSO boring and lackluster. What a waste of time! I so much wish I could have quit this one halfway through!!! lol.

      • yes, that one; it started out well enough; it seemed like it was headed somewhere interesting, but then killed all the tension and transitioned into a complete borefest! My biggest regret is not turning it off in the middle!!! lol. I only endured the 2nd act b/c I was sure it was going to return to the tension it created and abandoned in the first act, but this one not only killed anticipation, but it also wasted my time! Now I feel like you sitting thru crap movies all the way through! lol.

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