'Undertow' (unrated)

Taking old ideas and making them seem new again, the Peruvian drama Undertow (Contracorriente) is a ghost story of the most haunting kind. In a small seaside village in Peru, Miguel (Cristian Mercado) and Mariela (Tatiana Astengo) are excitedly awaiting the birth of their first son. At the same time, Miguel is carrying on an illicit affair with Santiago (Manolo Cardona), a photographer and painter who passed through town and never left.

Right from the start of Undertow, writer-director Javier Fuentes-Leon refuses to reduce any of his characters to clichés, which gives the film its fresh, captivating power. The setting may be a tiny town, but the movie is populated by complex people leading complex lives, from the gruff fishermen who gossip about Santiago to the adulterous husband who has fallen in love with two people at the same time and is in complete denial about the inevitable consequences of his dilemma.

Then Santiago drowns in an accident – and reappears as a ghost only Miguel can see and talk to. This finally allows the couple to walk together in public holding hands and expressing their affection for each other. Ironically, Miguel’s affair gets discovered after his lover dies.

Undertow casts a humane and understanding eye toward all of its characters, from the devastated and confused Mariela, who reacts in a wholly believable way after her suspicions are confirmed, to Miguel, a man who can’t come to grips with who he is (“I can’t love you; it’s not right,” he tells Santiago) but does nothing to contain his longing. He can’t. Undertow argues that fate can sometimes sweep us away from what we want — or think we want — and pull us in an unexpected direction. You can either choose to swim along or risk drowning in a lonely, unhappy life.

Cast: Cristian Mercado, Manolo Cardona, Tatiana Astengo.

Writer-director: Javier Fuentes-Leon.

Producers: Rodrigo Guerrero, Javier Fuentes-Leon.

A Film Collaborative release. Running time: 100 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Vulgar language, sexual situations, nudity, adult themes. In Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Art Cinema.