Debut film by director Javier Fuentes-León, Undertow is a
sympathetic and engaging tale about two men in love in a culture where
it is frowned upon – not to mention the fact that one of them happens to
be married to a pregnant woman. In short, a look at the clash between tradition and modernity.
The setting is a small fishing village in rural Peru, where traditions run deep. Miguel (Mercado), a fisherman who is a pillar of the local Catholic
church, alongside his heavily pregnant wife Mariela (Astengo). Miguel
has a big secret in the form of his secret gay lover Santiago
(Cardona), a handsoome, artist Santiago who has recently moved into the
village and he, himself, quickly becomes centre of gossip.
Like any secret lover, Santiago is frustrated with Miguel for keeping
their relationship secret, while Miguel is desperate to retain the
respect of the community and his wife and (soon to be born) child. For a
while, Miguel is able to have it all until tragedy strikes and Miguel is forced to admit who he really is, despite the major consequences that are likely to follow.
Undertow is Director Javier Fuentes-León’s first feature film, but
you would never know it from the acute and thoughtful directing. The
film is not big on action or events, and the danger of it dragging or
losing its way is omnipresent, but Fuentes-León keeps it moving along
briskly (though, perhaps with a slightly dip towards the end). The acting, similarly, is brilliant. Christian
Mercado, as Miguel, illustrates the crisis of trying to get along in a
macho-culture when you just don’t fit in with subtlety and a wry humour.
Manolo Cardona is a hugely well-known actor in Latin America (and
appeared as the leading male in Beverley Hills Chihuahua) and plays the
jilted lover with the perfect mix of vulnerability and aggression.
Together, their relationship is playful, passionate, and most
The cinematography is striking: the brutally beautiful
Peruvian coastline provides the hidden coves when Miguel and Santiago’s
love flourishes, but also harbours the violence of the ocean, which
brings their downfall. The unrelenting sea, summed up in the title
Undertow, symbolises the suffocating nature of life in the small
village, where tradition dominates and changes are viewed with
This film should not be dismissed as just a Latin American Brokeback Mountain.
It certainly stands in its own right, with the clever use of magical
realism that Latin American cinema is becoming famous for. A charming and engaging film.