Dir. Javier Fuentes-Leon
. Peru. Columbia. France. Germany. 2009.

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The debut feature by Javier Fuentes-Leon, which has already garnered an award from the Sundance Festival, is an intimate and impressive film revolving around a love triangle in a Peruvian fishing village, that asks question about sexual identity, masculinity and religion.
Miguel (Cristian Mercado) is married to Mariela (Tatiana Astengo) who is heavily pregnant expecting the birth of their first child.  But Miguel harbors a dark secret, he is also in love with the ostracised Santiago (Manolo Cardona), a visiting artist who is ignored by the community owing to his homosexuality.  Santiago drowns in an accident owing to the undertow of the ocean; but he returns in a spirit form that only Miguel can see - allowing them to express their love without fear.  But Santiago remains trapped in a Peruvian limbo until his body is found and buried in accordance to the strict religious beliefs of his adopted home.  The choice Miguel makes will have ramifications on his relationship to Santiago and the community as a whole.
The film carries on the strong Latin American tradition of 'magical realism' in cinema - allowing to mix a filmic authenticity with a strong sense of fiction or fairytale in a more than realistic setting.  The evocative cinematography by Mauricio Vidal gives the impression that it is a mystical site for the backdrop of a serious subject matter.  The homosexuality is dealt with subtly and with great humility (that is where the 'Brokeback' comparisons can start and end) addressing it with discretion but not in your face, even though the first sex scene takes place within the first 10 minutes - the homosexual love making is more artistic in its execution, as opposed to the more cinematic heterosexual scenes between Miguel and Mariela.  Whilst the former is more artistic, the latter is more intense and aggressive.
It is worth noting that the town do not so much dismiss or ostracise Santiago because he is gay, but because he is as much a different person to them in terms of culture, class and skin complexion.  
Throughout the film we are confronted by the stereotypical portrayal of masculinity - working on a boat, drinking with buddies, playing and watching soccer; in juxtaposition to the tenderness of a relationship between two men.  The questions of sexual identity are always posed by Santiago, 'you don't have the balls to be a man' and is a homosexual more of a man because of his acceptance of his identity and security in it.  Miguel ultimately learns to accept in order to gain a new footing in the community once the truth comes out, even though he does not fully do so.
A flagging last 20 minutes, (when the role of Mariela so well written and performed becomes almost forgotten about due to the need by Miguel to make his mind up about Santiago's body) and an ambigious ending leaves the audience asking more questions when really what was required was closure.  In spite of this, the film should be commended and praised for dealing with homosexuality so overtly and using sex scenes as a point of character development rather than a culmination of the narrative.  And for transplanting a storyline into a non-descript South American village is a master stroke by Fuentes-Leon, making this a film for all of Latin America and not just Peru. 
A more than universal story with characters wonderfully pe
rformed by a strong cast, indebted to a crew who combine to make a film to be remembered and ultimately cherished.
Jamie Garwood

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