High Tide (2024)


High Tide Review

Marco Calvani’s “High Tide” is a disorganized yet intimate drama about a gay immigrant; in fact, its greatest success is the excellent performance at its center. The film follows Brazilian émigré Lourenço (Marco Pigossi), who is waiting for his American lover to return to Provincetown Massachusetts’ gay Mecca as he runs out the clock on his visa. As kindness and cruelty pull Lourenço apart, Pigossi gives a mesmerizing performance that heat-welds together the film’s disparate parts, making it feel whole even when it isn’t structurally sound.

When “High Tide” begins, Calvani demands attention by pitting gentle waves caressing the shore against Lourenço stripping off his clothes and launching himself into the ocean in an emotional crisis. This scene returns later in the film with more narrative context, but dangling it before viewers evokes images of undocumented migrants taking desperately to the water in search of refuge.

Lourenço isn’t quite a refugee (although he calls himself one), nor is he “undocumented” in any literal sense (though he’s called that too). His tourist visa is just about to expire, and staying on legally from here requires winding through mile-high hurdles with no guarantee of success or timeline not that any specific time frame is discussed. So while waiting for Joe to come back (the exact circumstances between them are left vague), he takes up under-the-table odd jobs cleaning and painting rich people’s summer homes, living in a tiny guest house owned by Scott (Bill Irwin), an older gay man who becomes his temporary anchor: He’s a friend of Joe’s; he nags tenderly; they talk; it works.

Eventually Lourenço meets Maurice (James Bland), an attractive soft-spoken Black doctor from Queens on his way to a residency in Angola; eventually they sleep together. Another impermanent fixture in Lourenço’s life, Maurice gives him just enough of a spark to start rethinking his own prospects or rather, to see them in a different light. Their dynamic is sweet if often overwritten; especially when Calvani tries to fold malformed critiques of white queerness into the mix, the dialogue can’t help but sound like lines spoken by actors embodying characters on a stage that isn’t quite ready for them.

The words Pigossi and Bland are made to say whether recollections of racial animus or confessions of desire recall nothing so much as those heard in amateurish high school productions. But they perform them with sincerity and innocence every time. Pigossi especially excels at taking these function-first lines of dialogue and imbuing them with longing; he carries deep uncertainty behind his eyes, but also soulfulness, which he alchemizes into a performance that is both beautiful and devastating (even when the movie around him too often converges toward the trite and familiar).

Executive producer Marisa Tomei and “Tangerine” star Mya Taylor appear in minor supporting roles that allow both women meaningful energetic contrast against Pigossi’s reserve, despite their brevity. However, what keeps “High Tide” working even though it shouldn’t is its liberating embrace of vulnerability. Courtesy of cinematographer Oscar Ignacio Jiménez, its tight close-ups on locked eyes, smiling mouths, naked stretch marks and feet wrapped around lovers’ waists amount to a mode of hypnotic cinematic intimacy that the film so infrequently enters for extended periods.

There is nothing uncertain about Lourenco’s visa problem. Only a few of the distant social issues in the film are given an aesthetic or dramatic treatment that can be called precise. But Pigossi takes this thought of changeability and turns it into something unstable something that has no solid ground, like sand shifting underfoot with such skill that he bends the film around himself, so that even though we know what romantic beats and gestures will happen on-screen, they still seem unexpected. It is a performance which shines brightly from within; a performance imbued with warmth and passion that does not merely keep “High Tide” interesting but also causes it to burst into joy from time to time.

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