Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | November 20, 2010

Undertow: An Eye-Opening Latin Film

Last Friday, Renata and I attended a screening of “Undertow,” a brave Peruvian film (directed by Javier Fuentes-Limon)  about a bisexual love triangle in a remote fishing village in South America.  The story opens as Miguel (Cristian Mercado), a married fisherman with an expectant wife (Tatiana Astengo), is summoned to help with the preparations for the funeral of a family relative. His job is to dedicate the body and soul of the deceased to God before a burial at sea – a tradition the villagers follow so the soul will be able to rest in peace.

As the ceremony is under way, we notice that the hearse is being closely followed by Santiago (Manolo Cardona), a painter who moved to the village to find inspiration for his art. He photographs everything he sees, and this clearly disturbs the villagers (though they don’t do anything about it), for this stranger is rumored to be a homosexual – a giant taboo for these macho, churchgoing workers.

But Miguel is leading a double life – he is secretly having a torrid affair with Santiago, but insists in keeping it under wraps. Santiago cannot take pictures of him or paint pictures of him, for he sees himself as a straight man with a weakness. When Santiago suddenly drowns (an event that is kept off-screen), Miguel is constantly visited by his ghost, which only he can see, hear and (incredibly) touch.

Santiago’s soul is unable to rest until his body is found and dedicated. As Miguel searches for the remains in the ocean, he resumes his affair – since his lover is invisible, he can enjoy living his everyday life while being with Santiago all times of day without raising any suspicion. But a twist in the storyline threatens to expose who Miguel really is, and then decisions have to be made.

I thought Undertow was a great film that explores the conflicts of living in a macho-dominated society and the pain that a man feels for being uncomfortable with his own sexual desire. On the outside, Miguel is a leader in his community, a relatively good husband and an active participant in his Catholic community. But on the inside, he is in love with a man – and is terrified to admit it even to himself.

I would recommend this film to any audience that can keep an open mind. For the squeamish ones, let me tell you that there are no directly explicit scenes – the lovers embrace naked but all you see is their butts, and the only moment of frontal nudity is seen from a distance.  I hope this film can find a good audience – it is not simply a gay story, but the story of a man in desperate need of finding his own soul.

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