Starring: Cristian Mercado, Manolo Cardona, Tatiana Astengo
Director: Javier Fuentes-León
Running Time: 97 mins
Undertow (Contracorriente) is a Peruvian film about a married man who struggles as his affection for his secret male lover burns strong, while his small seaside town’s rigid traditions and prying eyes mean that their relationship can never be revealed.
An elegant and rather abstract romantic drama, Undertow proves a striking watch throughout, as it tackles the difficult topic of the impact of social norms on individuals, all with a certain cinematic majesty throughout. With that said, however, it’s far from the world’s most emotionally stunning piece, while it is a patient and often somewhat moving watch, it doesn’t quite have the depth of drama to really grab you beyond its overall atmosphere.
Let’s start off with the positives, however, with the fact that Undertow is without a doubt one of the most elegant movies you’ll have seen in a long time. It’s a quiet piece set in a tiny seaside settlement on the Peruvian coast, but in the absence of the bustling and intense nature of many Hollywood romantic dramas, there’s a very striking atmosphere of emptiness that lends the film a stunning vibe throughout.
Although not as low on dialogue as you might expect, the immense scope of the film’s setting often takes precedence in most scenes, and in particular when we see Miguel and his lover, Santiago, conversing in secret on the beach looking out to sea, the majesty of the scenery really takes over the emotional and dramatic tone of the film, something that I was really impressed by.
Furthermore, that rather abstract tone plays in very well to the story at hand, and while I don’t wish to give any spoilers away about the content of the plot, the way the film ends up playing out like some sort of elegant dream is what helps its story to work so well in context.
However, while the film is a striking and powerfully atmospheric watch throughout, I can’t really escape the fact that it’s also a generally less-than-enthralling film. It’s a strange thing to say, and while the film’s visuals and atmosphere do command your attention very well at times, the story itself just doesn’t have enough depth to really grab you.
Its subject matter is interesting initially, watching how a married man is torn between his devotion to his forbidden love and retaining face in his local community, however I felt that the story didn’t really develop enough beyond that simple premise, and as such, it gradually falls apart when it becomes apparent that there isn’t anything more to the core relationship at hand.
If you were a fan of Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, then Undertow is likely to be another favourite of yours, with a similar subject matter and a similarly elegant atmosphere. However, for me, I felt that despite its cinematic successes, Undertow didn’t have enough depth of emotion and drama to really keep me engrossed throughout, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.0 overall.