Friday, February 11, 2011


I am, in some ways, far too constricted by rules I set for myself. When writing for EFC and this blog, I tend to work something close to a first-in-first-out queue; it makes the most sense, since the details of a given movie are more likely to fall out of my brain given time, crowded out by the stuff I see afterward. So, since there was a bunch of stuff from last week that I wanted to write up, the film I saw Monday got delayed until after it had stopped playing in local theaters. Quite frankly, I had a hard time convincing myself to write this week's Next Week before finishing this, even though it's timely and the blog's most read feature. I just don't multi-task well at all.

Fortunately, a large chunk of the people I know who would have had interest in watching it were there Monday night when I saw it, but I'm not sure how helpful that is. Unfortunately, Wolfe Releasing doesn't seem to have a website that lists the places where it is playing, although I see it will be released on video in June.

So, this review is probably not particularly helpful right now to my local readers, although I imagine the movie is moving to smaller cities than Boston right now. I just don't know where. If you're coming because the movie just opened near you and found this review, say hey in the comments, because it may be fun to track how this thing travels.

(Other silly rules I set for myself: I alternate reading mystery and sci-fi books, organize my new comics alphabetically when I pick them up on Wednesday and read them in that order unless there's a compelling reason not to, generally bring one dark/caffeinated soda and one light/caffeine-free one to work every day, and try not to eat the same meat for both lunch and dinner. I am, quite frankly, ridiculous.)

Contracorriente (Undertow)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 January 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run)

Not all ghost stories are horror movies; in fact, some of the best ones aren't. Take Undertow, for instance - it's not the first film to pounce on the idea that literal and figurative haunting can be the same thing, but it does so almost perfectly, using the simple metaphor to add interest and perhaps humor to a story that could be too familiar, even if well-told.

Miguel (Cristian Mercado) is a well-respected man in his Peruvian fishing village. He's a simple fisherman, not wealthy, but he has a lovely wife, Mariela (Tatiana Astengo), who is expecting their first child. They host practically the entire town for dinner after church on Sundays, and when Miguel's cousin dies, the man's brother asks Miguel to speak for him at the ceremony where the body is offered back to God and the sea, as Miguel is "good with God". They may not think so if they knew that, when nobody is looking, Miguel is the lover of photographer and artist Santiago (Manolo Cardona), who is widely shunned even though nobody mentions his sexuality. Then, one day, Santiago disappears - although not to Miguel, who is the only one to see the drowned man's ghost, and knows that Miguel will only find peace if Miguel finds the body and carries out the ritual - but that would mean admitting everything.

Where writer/director Javier Fuentes-León is going with this is clear, but that doesn't hurt it one bit. Santiago's ghostly state is an elegant metaphor for Miguel's closeted existence - by turns, it highlights both Miguel's fear of discovery and the torment Santiago feels at being hidden, but Fuentes-León isn't satisfied with that; he's able to deftly transform it from a metaphor to a fantasy of Miguel being able to merge both his public and secret lives at once, although the film is well aware that this is not a fair deal. Though the exact moment when the change is made is obvious, it does not feel like a filmmaker trying to change the rules to have it both ways, but a natural outgrowth of the story. It's impressive management of tone, although Fuentes-León does falter in that area toward the end, when he opts to examine more permutations of how the situation can play out than is optimal.

Full review at EFC.

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