High Tide (1987)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Family Drama  |   Run Time - 96 min.  |   Countries - Australia   |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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Review by Josh Ralske

High Tide is a beautifully realized domestic drama about a woman's chance encounter with the daughter she'd abandoned years earlier. Director Gillian Armstrong, working with screenwriter Laura Jones (who would later collaborate with Jane Campion on the scripts for An Angel at My Table and The Portrait of a Lady), has created a wonderfully complicated central character in Lilli (Judy Davis). An acerbically witty drunk, Lilli, as the film opens, is working as a backup singer for an Elvis impersonator. The immeasurably talented Davis, who first gained recognition as the star of Armstrong's directorial debut My Brilliant Career, effectively draws a character who sometimes behaves atrociously, but who remains sympathetic and recognizably human. It's a gorgeously nuanced performance containing moments that are at once delicate and powerfully emotional. Lilli is a woman who tries to play it cool, but whose every change of emotion flashes visibly across her face, and Davis brings her to vibrant life. Armstrong, unlike some of her American independent counterparts, is a director who realizes that even in the case of a small-scale drama, film is a visual medium. Cinematographer Russell Boyd (who worked on many of Peter Weir's early films) creates rich images of the Australian seaside, and Armstrong effectively contrasts the grungy dull vistas of the caravan park where Ally lives with the cheap glitz of Lilli's stage life, and with the beauty of the sea that lures them both. Armstrong's use of several tracking dissolves (from the rocks along the seashore to the sweep across the open road, for example) creates a sense of the cyclical nature of life. Her expressive visual sense enhances the emotional resonance of the moving tale she tells.