Festival du Nouveau Cinema 2020
Slowly paced and providing the bare minimum of exposition, Red Moon Tide is a haunting fable of a town trapped in limbo. Fantastical and naturalistic imagery come together to form a ghost story, of sorts, using the true story of a diver as the jumping-off point to explore a relationship between death and life. Lyrical in its abstract beauty, Lois Patiño’s latest film is a patient, masterfully executed observation on the process (and importance) of mourning.
Tonally reminiscent of films like David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, Red Moon Tide picks up after the disappearance of local diver Rubio de Camelle (played by himself), who in real life and in the film has saved over forty people lost at sea. Where the film diverges from reality is that Rubio now finds himself lost at sea. However, instead of taking his perspective, Patiño plants the audience in Rubio’s home – a village in the Galician coast. There, the film takes on its more fantastical elements as the townsfolk find themselves in a physical stasis and left to reflect on Rubio and his memory.
The only forward momentum that Red Moon Tide has is in the arrival of three witches who walk through the village placing white sheets over the immobile residents. Something strange is obviously afoot as the townspeople can still communicate with one another, but not with their voices. Instead, they speak of Rubio in a seemingly telepathic manner, awaiting the witches to find him and set them free from whatever curse has frozen their bodies. The molasses-like pacing of the film will likely turn many off from it, but there is something ethereal about how Patiño captures the village and their plight. As if, without Rubio, the village would be nothing more than a ghost town and so has been virtually turned into one so the villagers may ruminate upon his importance to their lives.
Combined with the slow pacing is a storybook-like presentation as intertitles appear occasionally, spelling out the story of Rubio as a fable and not necessarily as a matter of fact. It introduces the witches and provides a little context to the film’s setting and main plot, but other than that it mostly just serves as the lens with which the audience sees the film’s story. Being framed as a fable gives it an otherworldly quality that accentuates the film’s mythical elements in a place that still feels real despite its current state.
As the witches navigate the coastal village and try to find clues as to Rubio’s disappearance and what has caused everyone to freeze in place, Patiño (who also serves as cinematographer) serves up beautiful imagery of nature continuing to exist. The grassy tops of cliffs blow in the wind as goats and birds continue with their usual behaviour. One goat even gets into a villager’s home, trotting through, uncaring of the human presence still there, albeit motionless. Each shot feels gargantuan in scope. As humans stand outside freezing or in the middle of whatever task they were in, it feels like nature is just going to swallow them whole.
Since this is a village by the sea, the village truly feels like it could easily be enveloped by the encroaching waters. Huge gusts of wind and the crashing of waves makes every moment where people are not moving feel threatening. Time seems to both move and stop at the same time. The village itself feels like an equilibrium between life and death, and Red Moon Tide benefits from being willing to take its time capturing nature and the unnatural in order to evoke a sense of the metaphysical. Patiño’s film feels deliberately paced to eventually swallow the audience whole, if you’ll give it the patience it requires.
Red Moon Tide feels attuned to something more abstract than just the importance of mourning, or the fragility of life. It’s because of that nebulous feeling that makes the film stand out among many other movies that explore concepts of death and memory such as Lowery’s A Ghost Story. In the village’s reflection on Rubio and the fable-like presentation of the film, it feels less like a man has died and more that a vital part of the village has been cleanly excised – so much so that without the moment of reflection, the memory could quickly wither away. A powerful story told in a beautiful way, Red Moon Tide is a triumphant achievement.