Gillian Armstrong’s beautiful High Tide, from Australia, begins with a bravura shot: a tracking camera seems to be showing fleeting landscape, perhaps through a car window, in the deep of night. We are pulled up short when the camera stops suddenly; backed up by three blonde-wigged backup singers, an Elvis impersonator is performing on stage. What appeared to be woods outdoors, it turns out, is a curtain—a performance backdrop. The camera reverses direction, seemingly “on the road” again. Armstrong’s film is about one of the backups; how Lillie (as she now calls herself), we are visually “told,” would love to get the hell out of there. She is part of this cornball act only for the money; soon enough she gets fired and is really out on the road.
Lillie’s car breaks down. While it is being repaired, Lillie finds herself in a mobile home park in a faded, sleepy beachside town. There, she chances across 16-year-old Ally, whom she abandoned as an infant after the death of the love of her life, Lillie’s father; Ally’s guardian, her paternal grandmother, has told her that her mother is dead. Neither yet knows who the other is. Once she does know, Lillie has the opportunity to reverse her knack for sabotaging her own happiness.
Brimming, loose-ended lives: High Tide breathes with these. Armstrong directed from a script by Laura Jones; what gorgeous dialogue! “I did not choose to stop loving you,” Lillie tells Ally, who has discovered the truth. “It just happened.” Burrowing believably, unsentimentally, into people’s lives, this honest film evidences a great generosity of spirit.
Judy Davis (best actress, National Society of Film Critics, Australian Film Institute) is tremendously moving as Lillie works her way out of a tangle of contradictory emotions and behaviors.
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