Perhaps unsurprisingly – to some – at least three movies were made for the big screen with the title “Undertow”. Most people have heard of the 1995 suspense/thriller one starring Lou Diamond Phillips and Mia Sara. I’m not reviewing that one… if you’re really interested and you have a VCR, here you go:
I don’t see where that one has ever been released on DVD or Bluray. It probably won’t be.
Next came the 2005 forgettable release starring Jamie Bell, Kristen Stewart, Dermot Mulroney, et al that was a drama/suspense sort of story. I didn’t care for it (it was choppy) but again, if you’re interested (maybe a Mulroney fan?), here’s a link:
That’s not the one I mean either.
Today, I’m reviewing the much lesser known 2011 Puruvian release, Undertow starring Cristian Mercado and Manolo Cardona. It was directed by Javier Fuentes-Leon. The movie was Peru’s submission for Academy Award consideration. The director speaks English fluently so, even though we gringo English only speakers have to watch it with subtitles, the text reading is not painful at all. It flows quite well.
The synopsis of this movie won’t catch your attention. Peru may have a reasonably decent movie market firm…who knows. This film, as I understand it, was done without much budget to work with so perhaps the producers nixed a lot of overt promotion. Here’s the full synopsis:
In a tiny traditional Peruvian seaside village Miguel, a young fisherman, and his beautiful bride Mariela, are about to welcome their first child. But Miguel has a secret: hes in love with Santiago a painter who is ostracized by the town because hes gay.
Yes, that’s it! It’s a very good thing that 20 people reviewed this movie positively on Amazon and that it’s gotten more than a dozen thumbs up or I might never have paid it any mind at all.
Here’s a real review, with spoilers excerpted so it’s not ruined for you, written by a real person (who probably isn’t part of the Peruvian marketing industry) that truly says it all about this movie:
This beautiful ghost/love story is an eloquent and haunting exploration of the road not taken, of the aching that comes from realizing, too late, that you allowed your greatest happiness, you’re most profound love, to fade from your life with no chance of ever retrieving it. In a small coastal village in Peru lives Miguel, a fisherman, and his pregnant and devoted wife, Mariela. Theirs is a life of simple pleasures and surroundings, but they have love, family and a sense of community. Santiago, a worldly artist has been living off and on in the village for many years but to the town’s residents he’s an outsider, an untrustworthy interloper living on the fringe of their tight-knit existence. However, for Miguel, Tiago (as he refers to him) is anything but; in many ways, he is his other self. These two men have for many years, shared a profound and intense love that due to fear has sadly lingered in shadows for too long. Where Santiago wants to share a more open relationship with Miguel, the latter refuses, even going so far as to reject his own nature and dismissing their shared feelings as nothing more than a special friendship albeit one that he is unwilling to even acknowledge to the outside world; however, when Santiago threatens to leave again, perhaps for good this time, Miguel is crestfallen and equally angry. (spoilers redacted)
The magical realism quality of this film worked so exquisitely, it made my heart ache with both joy and pain. To see these two men who were so much in love but afraid be able to openly express it to one another is as moving as anything I have ever seen in a film. There are no tidy endings here so don’t look for them. There are many casualties and those that survived bear scars. The performances were uniformly excellent, even the smallest role is acted perfectly but Cristian Mercado as Miguel is absolutely amazing. The score by Selma Mutal Vermeulen merits special mention as it adds immeasurably to the feel of the film. Both the screenplay and direction are uncontrived, honest and direct, thankfully lacking in pretense. The art direction and cinematography by Diana Trujillo and Mauricio Vidal, respectively, is almost lyrical. They turn a hardscrabble and poor fishing village into a magical place where both sea and arid landscapes merge to create windswept vistas of unusual and powerful beauty. Undertow is a poetic and poignant testament to the power of love, loss and redemption. It is filmmaking of the highest caliber. “Wolfgang”
Now that’s what I call a review! I would only add, as Wolfgang alluded, this isn’t the “feel good movie of the year”, to borrow a phrase. Be prepared for some angst. If you’re an emotional movie watcher (as we are in my house), have your tissues ready. You’ll be needing them.