Last year’s winner of the World Cinema Dramatic Award at the Sundance Film Festival, “Contracorriente” (“Undertow”) explores the struggle of a man who must choose between conforming to the norms of his community and being true to himself.
Set in a small village in Peru, the film stars Cristian Mercado as Miguel, a fisherman with a wife, Mariela (Tatiana Astengo), and a baby on the way--and boyfriend, Santiago (Manolo Cardona), on the side. It’s a familiar construct—Mariela’s oblivious, Santiago's frustrated and Miguel just wants to maintain the status quo.
Things get interesting, however, when Santiago dies while swimming in the ocean, and his ghost is unable to go to his final resting place until Miguel finds his body and gives him a proper burial. With Santiago's ghost invisible to everyone but Miguel, the two can finally walk through the streets of the town hand-in-hand, allowing Miguel to come closer than ever to being himself for the first time in his life.
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Rather that being a cheap ploy, Santiago’s ghost allows writer-director Javier Fuentes-León to explore just how corrosive life in the closet can be, not just for Miguel, but both his wife and boyfriend. And Fuentes-León smartly ends his film focusing only on Miguel’s decision about who he is, rather than its effect on others.
Mercado is excellent as the conflicted Miguel, making you feel sympathetic—if not sorry--for a man cheating on his wife. Similarly, Cardona doesn’t come off as a home wrecker, but a wronged man in an unfortunate situation. But it’s Astengo who gives the best performance, her Mariela is aggrieved, humiliated, lied to, and cheated on, but maintains her strength and dignity.
The bonus material is a frustrating collection of featurettes, interview and deleted scenes. There’s a lengthy interview with Fuentes-León about how the film was developed, but much of the information he imparts is repeated in the behind-the-scenes featurette.
Many of the deleted scenes are loaded with redundancy as well, more often than not comprised of scenes in the movie, but with a different staring or ending points. More puzzling still is that there are a few moments cut from the film that clearly should’ve been left in—they’re not crucial, but they would’ve made the story a little richer.
"Contracorriente" is now available on