In the Peruvian film “Undertow” (“Contracorriente”), director/writer Javier Fuentes-León tells the story of Miguel (Cristian Mercado), a man living with his pregnant wife (Tatiana Astengo) in a small seaside village who has been keeping secret his love affair with another man (Manolo Cardona). However, when his lover dies and returns as a ghost with an extremely important favor to ask, Miguel must decide whether he can live a lie any longer or if he has the courage to reveal who he is and face a prejudiced village.
During an exclusive interview with me, Fuentes-León talked about how people are relating to the homosexual themes of the film and if he thinks a film like “Undertow” will encourage more gay men and women to disclose their sexual orientation.
“Undertow,” which won the World Cinema Audience Award in the Dramatic category last year at the Sundance Film Festival, was released on DVD and Blu-ray May 31.
Were you worried the homosexual nature of the film would not go over well with Latino audiences and that you would lose some of them right from the start?
I knew it would be an obstacle. I knew there would be people who would not see the movie just because it’s a love story between two men. But I was more curious to see what the reaction was going to be. I was wondering if there would be interest or controversy or if anyone cared. I was amazing to find out there was a pretty good reaction from the beginning. The move was being embraced.
Did you find more people were seeing it as a human story more than a homosexual story?
I think so. Before we finished the movie, we did a focus group in Colombia and asked an audience what they thought the movie was about. The consensus was that it was a movie about being faithful to who you really are. That’s something a lot of people can relate to regardless of sexual orientation.
Still, a lot of people referred to “Undertow” as the Latin American version of “Brokeback Mountain” or called it the “gay ghost story.” What did you think of those comparisons?
Personally, I have mixed feelings about those labels. On one hand I do admire a film like “Brokeback Mountain.” It’s an honor to be compared to a really good movie. On the other hand, I feel it’s a little lazy to describe it like that just because there is a romance between two men in a rural area. Just because a story has been told like this doesn’t mean others that come after are going to be the same. It’s like saying every story that ends tragically between a boy and a girl is a copy of “Romeo and Juliet.”
Do you think it’s harder for Latino gay men to be accepted by friends and family because of the culture?
In general, I think Latin America tends to be more conservative than some cities in the U.S. But I think it ultimately depends on your family and your surroundings. I’m glad to see things in Latin America are changing slowly. There seems to be more open-mindedness. Families are starting to understand that if they love the person they have to love them the way they are.
Do feel like a film like “Undertow” will encourage more homosexuals to come out of the closet?
I hope so. We have had some people write on our Facebook page about their experiences. A girl from Colombia wrote that her and her boyfriend went to see the film one night and after they left the movie theater the boyfriend came out to her. Although it was hard for her, she was glad she saw the movie and could understand his dilemma and how she could support him. We’ve also had people write to us to say “Undertow” was about their life and because of the movie they don’t feel like they’re alone anymore. I think it has had that effect. Film has power, but it only has certain power. I believe what really is going to change people’s minds when it comes to this topic is when gay men and women start coming out to their families and those family members who rejected the idea before start looking at it with an open mind. That is when we will see change.