DREAMS AND ILLUSIONS wend their way through Undertow, a nuanced romance from first-time director Javier Fuentes-León. Its setting—a remote fishing village on the north coast of Peru, where the windy beaches meet an ocean that has a remarkable, emerald clarity to its waters—is dreamlike, making it understandable that its protagonist, Miguel (Cristian Mercado), accepts the realization he's being visited by a ghost. Nonetheless, the turmoils of personal evolution that follow—both public and private—demand no small degree of courage.
Fuentes-León is as interested in the complexities of relationships as the social dynamics of small-town life, where secrets are difficult to keep and close ties to religion and tradition can create an intimidating phalanx of social mores. So Miguel, a genuinely affectionate husband and father to be, is fiercely protective of the secrecy he shares with his true love, Santiago (Manolo Cardona). The two tryst on isolated inlets on the coast—Miguel more happily clandestine than Santiago—until Santiago drowns tragically, his restless spirit haunting Miguel until he's able to resolve both the physical loss of Santiago's missing body and the truth of his own identity.
It's hard to ignore the fact that at least on a superficial level, this film owes a great debt to both Brokeback Mountain and Ghost. And while it probably lacks the ingenuity to become as iconic as either of its predecessors, it nonetheless plumbs societal depths that continue to be relevant and compelling. That said, the effectiveness of the script is elevated by the performers; Cardona, Mercado, and Tatiana Astengo, as Miguel's pregnant wife Mariela, all turn in warm, sensitive portrayals that lend the characters an endearingly honest, modest nobility in their intentions, however provincial their environment.