'Undertow'

A bisexual triangle set in a Peruvian fishing village.

Leisurely but lovely “Undertow” is a bisexual triangle set in a Peruvian fishing village. Winner of the audience award in the World Cinema dramatic competition at Sundance, and picked up there for U.S. distribution by Wolfe Releasing, Javier Fuentes-Leon’s delicate debut feature should particularly appeal to gay auds in arthouse and DVD release.

Fisherman Miguel (Cristian Mercado) is an upstanding citizen in his small coastal burg, happily married to Mariela (Tatiana Astengo). Both are local church leaders who eagerly await the birth of their first child. But Miguel also has a hidden life — he’s having a passionate affair with Santiago (Manolo Cardona), an urban bourgeoise who moved here to paint, but has stayed for love of Miguel. Those feelings are mutual, yet the married man insists on total secrecy, Santiago chafing under such restrictions.

When Santiago accidentally drowns — an event oddly, abruptly announced after the fact rather than depicted in any way — his spirit can’t rest until the body is found. Meanwhile he appears as a ghost only Miguel can see. This is rather ideal for the expectant father, as now he can enjoy his lover’s company in public or even in his wife’s presence without raising suspicion.

However, discovery of some tell-tale nude portraits in the artist’s abandoned house creates a gossip firestorm in the conservative village.

Neither sexually explicit nor showily lyrical, “Undertow” nonetheless has a sensuous, romantic feel that balances same-sex love with an equally empathetic view toward the adoring, then bewildered, then enraged wife. Skirting the old-school homosexual tragedy ending one halfway expects, Fuentes-Leon instead closes on a moving, bittersweet note.

Perfs are first-rate, the packaging handsome without resorting to postcard prettiness. The pic was shot in Cabo Blanco, a scenic Peruvian village noted by surfers for its pipeline waves and by anglers for its marlin fishing (Hemingway once caught a 700-pounder).

Undertow

Peru-Colombia-France-Germany

Production

A Wolfe Releasing release of an Elcalvo Films and Dynamo production in association with 3 Puntos and All in One. Produced by Rodrigo Guerrero, Javier Fuentes-Leon. Executive producers, Andreas Calderon, Cristian Conti, Michel Ruben, Emilie Georges, Ole Landsjoaasen, Christian Furst, Annette Pisacane. Directed, written by Javier Fuentes-Leon.

Crew

Camera (color), Mauricio Vidal; editors, Roberto Benavides, Fuentes-Leon, Phillip J. Bartell; music, Selma Mutal; production designer, Manuel Hinojosa; set decorator, Maribel Villagaray; costume designer, Leslie Hinojosa; sound designer, Daniel "Gato" Garces; sound, Frederic Thery; casting, Rodrigo Bellott, Gustavo Vidal. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema, competing), Jan. 29, 2010. (Also in San Sebastian Film Festival.) Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Cristian Mercado, Tatiana Astengo, Manolo Cardona, Atilia Boschetti, Jose Chacaltana, Maria Edelmira Palomino, Julio Humberto Cavero, Haydee Caceres, Emilram Cossio, Cindy Diaz, Juan Pablo Olivos, Cristian Fernandez, Monica Rossi.
(Spanish dialogue)

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