Film Review: ‘Undertow’ Provides Poignant Metaphor For Closeted Life

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CHICAGO – “Undertow” is a title that has been used so often by so many different filmmakers that it now threatens to submerge a picture’s individuality. Fortunately, first-time writer/director Juan Fuentes-León’s Peruvian drama (originally titled “Contracorriente”) has already proven to be a film utterly incapable of drifting into obscurity. Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

Since its debut in 2009, the film has garnered numerous accolades at festivals, including the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award at Sundance, as well as the Audience Award at last year’s Chicago Latino Film Festival. Though it was ultimately snubbed by the Oscars, Fuentes-León’s small-scale gem has garnered an international array of admirers for its bold yet tender exploration of subject matter still deemed controversial in many parts of the world.

StarRead Matt Fagerholm’s full review of “Undertow” in our reviews section.

The strength of this picture lies in its subtlety. Mauricio Vidal’s camera often remains stationary, viewing the action with a straightforward gaze even as the story delves headfirst into magical realism. With the merest addition of excess, the film may have become a one-joke comedy, or even worse, a laughable supernatural romance. Perhaps this script couldn’t have been made with a straight face in America. It’s too earnest a fable to satisfy the irony-laden minds of most Hollywood filmmakers. In some ways, “Undertow” feels like a throwback to the Sirkian melodramas of yesteryear, particularly Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1974 masterpiece, “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.” Though Fuentes-León’s film isn’t in the same league as “Ali,” it does share certain elements—such as its gift for quiet observation, poetic lensing and heartbreakingly authentic performances. Like Sirk and Fassbinder, Fuentes-León empathizes with couples whose love for one another causes them to be ostracized by their intolerant communities (the working title for this film could’ve easily been “All That Heaven Allows”). Yet “Undertow” effectively illustrates that self-hatred provides the fuel for discrimination, even more so than the hatred of others.

‘Undertow’ stars Cristian Mercado, Manolo Cardona and Tatiana Astengo. It was written and directed by Juan Fuentes-León. It opened April 1 at the Music Box. It is not rated.

StarContinue reading for Matt Fagerholm’s full “Undertow” review.

Cristian Mercado and Tatiana Astengo star in Juan Fuentes-León’s Undertow.
Cristian Mercado and Tatiana Astengo star in Juan Fuentes-León’s Undertow.
Photo credit: Wolfe Releasing

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