Undertow DVD Review
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Sometimes you have to die to get a word in edgeways...
The first feature from Peruvian writer and director Javier Fuentes-Leon, and winner of numerous international audience awards, the bittersweet mystical love story Undertow, is brave, heart-breaking and thoroughly real.
Fisherman Miguel lives a complex life caught-up by denial and confused identity. Happily married to pregnant Mariela, he is also having a secret affair with visiting artist, Santiago. Distrusted by the close-knit Catholic community he's entered because of his quiet, reflective nature and constant snapping, Santiago has eggs daily thrown at his window and is ignored by many. Devout churchgoer, Miguel on the other hand, has a firm place in the community.
Refusing to join Santiago on a trip, Miguel continues to deceive the community and his clueless wife by secretly meeting Santiago until he suddenly drowns. With his body missing, Santiago's spirit is trapped and only Miguel can see him – death ironically bringing them their new beginning. Finally free to walk hand-in-hand and sit together next to a clueless Mariela, Santiago and Miguel experience temporary bliss before Santiago's corpse is discovered and naked portraits of Miguel are spotted by a loose-mouthed local, leading to him potentially being ostracised.
"Undertow sensitively explores unusual material in its neat circular plot structure, still almost taboo in its Peruvian setting"
Undertow's three leads give heartfelt convincing performances, depicting very different people coping and flailing in a no-win situation. Miguel is caught between a very real deep love for two people and is unable to sacrifice either or jeopardise his standing in the community. Uncovering Santiago's body he can't bear to let Santiago's soul find peace and lose him for good. Santiago both alive and dead is devastated by Miguel's refusal to publicly acknowledge their love, instead preferring to “play dumb”. He is heartbreakingly honest about his emotions: “I'm here because of you. I try to leave but I can't. It's hell when you're not around – there's nothing,” while finally learning the truth, Mariela is surprisingly understanding.
With some beautiful underwater shots, ragged rustic scenery depicting this small isolated Peruvian community and cinematography showcasing Peru's lesser-known idyllic coastlines, Undertow sensitively explores unusual material in its neat circular plot structure, still almost taboo in its Peruvian setting. Fuentes-Leon successfully substitutes Peru's famous Andean soundtrack for a more upbeat contemporary sound to match the subject matter and tastefully, rather artistically shoots beach scenes of male “love-making”.
A contemporary Romeo and Juliet love triangle taboo, Undertow is moving, intriguing and intimate, sensitively exploring themes of community, acceptance, sexual identity, support and being true to oneself.
· Exclusive Interview With Director Javier Fuentes-Leon (20 mins) and Two Of The Leads: Tatiana Astengo (5 mins) and Cristian Mercado (5 mins)
· Stills Gallery
Lively interviews with Astengo and Mercado are less revealing but Fuentes-Leon's interesting English spoken commentary is broken up into usefully headed sections and gives insight into the source of the idea; the marriage of this concept with Peruvian culture and perceptions; world reactions to the film; the financing of Undertow; symbolism; the concept of “magic realism”; casting; the effectiveness of specific scenes and location.
Writer/Director: Javier Fuentes-Leon
Studio: Axiom Films
Running Time: 97 mins
Retail Price: £15.99
Starring: Tatiana Astengo, Manolo Cardona, Cristian Mercado
Undertow is out now.
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