Undertow

Critics Consensus

A drama as beautifully filmed as it is finely detailed, Undertow is a wonderfully unique love story with a touch of magic.

90%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 31

90%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 1,846
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Movie Info

A man struggles to come to terms with the unexpected consequences of a secret love in this drama from director Javier Fuentes-Len. Miguel (Cristian Mercado) supports himself and his family as a fisherman in a small town on the coast of Peru. Miguel is happily married to Mariela (Tatiana Astengo), who is pregnant with their first child, and the couple are well respected in their community and active in the local church. But there's a side of Miguel that he keeps hidden from most people -- Miguel is also in love with Santiago (Manolo Cardona), an artist who is spending time in the village, and the two have secretly been having an affair. Santiago drowns one evening while swimming, and his ghost visits Miguel, telling him that his spirit will not know peace until Miguel finds the courage to tell the community about their love. While some suspect Miguel is hiding something when nude paintings of him are found in Santiago's home, Miguel isn't sure where to find the courage to confess his bisexuality to his wife and neighbors. Undertow (aka Contracorriente) was an official selection in World Cinema program the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, where it received the Audience Award for Best World Dramatic Feature. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

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Critic Reviews for Undertow

All Critics (31) | Top Critics (10)

  • This drama is a first feature by Javier Fuentes-Léon that manages to outgrow the limits of its story.

    Feb 3, 2011 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • Reminiscent of such heavenly Hollywood fantasies as "Here Comes Mr. Jordan," Peru's "Undertow" suggests a more passionate, lyrical tale of a soul in search of a body.

    Jan 20, 2011 | Rating: 3.5/4
  • Right from the start of Undertow, writer-director Javier Fuentes-Leon refuses to reduce any of his characters to clichés, which gives the film its fresh, captivating power.

    Dec 16, 2010 | Rating: 3/4
  • Undertow, for all its narrative tricks, has been given the rhythm and texture of real life, as well as emotional undercurrents that are haunting.

    Nov 29, 2010 | Rating: 8/10 | Full Review…

    Bob Mondello

    NPR
    Top Critic
  • Set in a small, picturesque Peruvian fishing village, it's less a coming-out tale than a magic realism-infused coming-of-consciousness love story.

    Nov 23, 2010 | Full Review…
  • This small film's accomplishments are many, but not the least is its ability to take a human story and frame it as a parable, without losing a bit of credibility or irresistible heart.

    Sep 16, 2010 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Undertow

  • Jun 05, 2013
    I really had no idea what to expect going into this movie, I found the plot intriguing and interest, when reading the descriptions and I had seen the trailer, but I literally had no expectations. It's safe to say that this film manages to shatter pretty much every expectation I ever had going in. You could say the plot itself is very simple, with an honest and hard-working fisherman, whose wife is pregnant, trying to keep his affair with another man secret for fear of what his community would think. At first glance, the plot itself is simple but the execution of it is tremendous because it really does get deep into the mind of this man who pushes away his lover for fear of reprisal from the community and how he reacts to his lover's death. There's also the fact that the ghost of Santiago is now haunting him and how that affects their relationship. I found it a nice twist seeing how Santiago, who can only be seen by Miguel, and Miguel finally embrace their relationship "openly" now that Santiago has died. I found this to be really intriguing and effective. The film also explores the gossiping nature of Miguel's community and how rumors abound of his sexuality once a character finds a painting, as Santiago was a painter, of Miguel naked in Tiago's house. The rumors eventually reach his wife and you also get to see how he handles this situation with his wife and his community. The interesting thing about this part of the story is that Miguel wasn't, at any point, in a loveless marriage as he and Mariela seemed very much in love. So the fact that it wasn't an unhappy marriage also added depth to the story in seeing how his relationship with his wife was and how truly happy he seemed. I found the execution of these parts excellent as well because the acting is believable and isn't over-the-top or melodramatic. There's no real antagonists in the film, it all feels natural in spite of its more "fantastical" plot. You also get to see Santiago's ghost sort of stuck in limbo, at least until his body is found, offered to god and buried at sea, because of Miguel's selfishness. Now that nobody can see Tiago, Miguel can openly embrace his relationship, while not really embracing it at the same time since nobody knows about Tiago still. Manolo Cardona, as Santiago, has great presence and very expressive eyes so he can pretty much tell the story of what his character is feeling without every saying anything. Again his acting is very believable and his motivations are clear throughout. Finally after it comes to light that Miguel and Santiago had an affair, Miguel 'breaks up' with Tiago's ghost and tells him to go away even though he'd still be stuck in limbo since his body wasn't found and offered. We then see Miguel trying to get his life back in order after the initial 'scandal', just before Santiago's body is found by his fishermen friends. This leads us to the ending where Miguel, finally having enough courage to accept who he is without caring about what others think, offering Santiago's body to the sea and there's this little moment just seconds before the credits roll that is, realistically, one of the sweetest and most touching endings I've ever seen in a movie. *SPOILERS* Basically, after not having been seen for the past 25 minutes of the movie, Santiago reappears, after his body is buried at sea, and seeing how Miguel finally had enough courage to admit his love, and gives Miguel a kiss and a smile showing that he's finally at peace. *END SPOILERS* It really doesn't sound like much when I write it here, but seeing how the story plays out and seeing everything that Miguel and Santiago went through, it was literally the perfect way to end the film. It was a lovely ending to a lovely story. I thought it was so good that it took what had been a great film, until then, and made it into an excellent one, hence the 4.5 rating. I just thought it was as great an ending as this movie could have. As you can tell, I really loved this movie. It's got a fantastic cast that does a great job at making these characters feel real in spite of the fantastical aspects of the story. There's a lot of symbolism here as well, and the movie really is poetic and beautiful. I really cannot complain one bit about this movie, because it accomplishes everything it sets out to do. It's near perfect for what it wants to be and I'd highly recommend this little gem of a movie. Top-notch stuff right here.
    Jesse O Super Reviewer
  • May 11, 2012
    In the beginning, there is the belly, of very, very pregnant Mariela(Tatiana Astengo) who is enjoying some down time with her husband Miguel(Christian Mercado). That is interrupted by his cousin Tano(Juan Pablo Olivos) who wants him to preside over his brother's burial at sea, per local custom. Otherwise, life goes on in his fishing village where Santiago(Manolo Cardona), a handsome artist, has taken up residence and is having a torrid secret affair with Miguel. Santiago also takes the time to buy Mariela a candle at the market. So, when Santiago shows up unannounced in his house one morning, Miguel is angry but it is nowhere near close to what he is thinking... "Undertow" has some beautiful footage, a neat premise and respect for local traditions. But the movie suffers from a near fatal case of indecision that leads to a slow pace that cannot be explained away by the leisurely rhythm of life in this village. The movie would want us to believe the indecision is due to Miguel not being able to make up his mind who to be with, but I have no problem with bisexuality. Admittedly, if he had acted decisively at one point about something else, it would have saved him a lot of trouble down the line. Rather, it is the story that has little direction after the plot kicks in, with the movie eventually just coming to a halt.
    Walter M Super Reviewer
  • Feb 02, 2012
    At face value, this is a good film. Great cast, believable dialog, location that is intriguing but not distracting. It's not until you start to dig a little deeper and really think about all of the symbolism and emotions (both spoken and unspoken), that you start to realize what a beautiful and heartbreaking love story it is.
    Robert C Super Reviewer
  • Dec 19, 2010
    This unexpectedly lovely film from Peru is a sweet surprise. A gentle kind-of coming out story set in a Peruvian fishing village, it is also as tender as it is straight-forward, even when delving into a bit of magical realism territory. It's the story of a married fisherman in what seems like a perfectly happy marriage who is also deeply involved with a painter on the side. To give too much away would be robbing this simple story of some of its surprise, but suffice to say it's about a guy who has no intention of coming out and finds out life has other things in mind for him. Though some of the storytelling is a little on the blunt side, there is so much gentleness to the delivery of the story that it doesn't matter in the least. Beautifully acted by its three leads, it's a sweet surprise and should've gotten noticed by more people. Check it out!
    Jeff T Super Reviewer

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