This slow and ambiguous debut from filmmaker Lois Patiño, set in a tiny Galician village, makes for one strange and unsettling trip
An older woman stands in a dining room, looking offscreen towards a natural light source. Though little set decoration surrounds her, a mirror on the back wall reveals a corridor – hidden depths beyond our comprehension. Then the voice over: “Mother, I’m sorry. Believe me, I didn’t know this would happen…” Are we watching this narrator’s memory? Their imagination? Or a disparate clash of diverging narratives? And the more pressing question: is MUBI playing a sly stoner joke on us by releasing Red Moon Tide on April 20th, the weedhead holiday?
It’s a question worth asking as a means of accessing this arresting and often inscrutable film. The glacially paced shots that make up Lois Patiño’s debut are dripping with mood. People stand in marshes and wetlands listening to the sounds around them. Boredom becomes a new way of seeing the world. Details unfurl.
Red Moon Tide’s secrets are elemental, but a story is easy enough to parse. An unseen hero, Rubio, might be dead. As a diver off the coast in Galicia, he was knocked off his boat by a giant wave. Since then, time in the coastal village of Costa da Morte stands imperceptibly still. The citizens, who variously narrate the film, view him as a saviour. His absence, then, could be apocalyptic.
If the people we see on screen aren’t ghosts, then their existence is certainly haunted by them. Fishermen often go missing at sea, we're told. Sea monsters, it is hinted, lurk in the briny deep. But this is no sea shanty, and the Wellerman never comes. Instead, we see the traces of life among an imposing and unforgiving landscape, where jagged rocks look like giants, and forests threaten to swallow villages whole.
Patiño’s film keeps its cards close to its chest. Some may read the film as a parable about climate change, as dwindling numbers of the living come to be represented by figures in sheets – the literal ghosts of capitalism. With a sense of inevitability, the film does fall into some of the slow cinema tropes that have defined the arthouse in the 21st century: the mixture of fact and fiction, the magical realist bent, the fragmentary approach to storytelling. In the film’s formalism, one wonders if it simply adheres to a different set of filmic dogmas rather than truly breaking new ground.
But in its climactic final half hour, Red Moon Tide really hits upon an extended note of satisfaction. When that red moon hits, Patiño delivers one majestic moment after another, cohering the town’s mythology around a few simple images. It recalls the famous ending of Antonioni’s L’Eclisse, stretched as long as a black metal instrumental. If you can get on its wavelength, Patiño’s film makes for quite a trip.
Red Moon Tide is now streaming on MUBI.Where to watch