starring Gloria Carrá, Jorge Sesán, Cristian Salguero, Mariana Chaud
written and directed by Verónica Chen
by Walter Chaw Verónica Chen's astonishing High Tide threatens for a while to be the distaff version of Alain Guiraudie's Stranger by the Lake before it takes something like a turn into the basement of some dark, dismal, class-based noir. It opens with rich, anxious Laura (Gloria Carrá) dancing in front of an uncurtained, wall-length window, seemingly aware of the three workmen watching in her yard as the sun goes down and they break for the day. The foreman, Weisman (Jorge Sesán), stays behind to a couple of sly, knowing looks, and engages in a rough seduction that finds Laura at turns the aggressor and the aggrieved. She doesn't like the rough talk. She thinks Weisman's a bit of a pig but softens when he apologizes and calls her "ma'am." It's a clue--though it's not obvious what kind of clue until later. The next morning, she sends him away and, while shopping, gossips to a friend about the size of Weisman's dick and his "animalistic" stamina. It's the set-up for something James M. Cain might have written, but it's told from the point of view of the fatale.
The first two-thirds of High Tide are like Parasite from the point-of-view of the rich wife, had the rich wife discovered the plot against her early enough to feel frightened and betrayed. It's incredibly tense and unpleasant. The last third is something altogether different, as one reveal after another punishes us for our preconceptions and allegiances. Each of the central acting trio is magnificent. Carrá is impossible to get a good read on: at once frightened and feral, tentative and decisive. When a cell phone rings in the middle of the night exactly where it shouldn't, I expected Laura to crumble in the heat of the moment. She grows stronger instead. Toto, the more aggressive of her two assailants, sneaks disgusting entendres into his responses to her. He gets high, then drunk; he borrows her CDs and eats a sausage while staring at her and stroking his crotch. He also gets the film's key, vertiginous reversal where he's consumed by uncertainty and a sudden, astonishing humanity. Chen shoots him in this scene in medium shot, hidden half in shadow. It's not menacing (though it should be), it's pathetic somehow, the way she frames him there: like he's afraid now, and the tables have turned, quietly, while he wasn't paying attention.
High Tide is a sophisticated, thorny, adult thriller aligned with something like Body Heat in its moral ambiguity and viciousness. It describes the world as a grey, complicated space peopled with imperfect monsters besotted with urges they can't control and boondoggles of their own design. Or maybe they're snares. Its thesis appears to be that there are no easy answers when it comes to the affairs of men and women, though we may wish there were. I'm reminded of No Country for Old Men and Sheriff Ed Tom's story about the rancher who gets killed by one of his cows and how "even in the contest between man and steer, the issue is not certain." There are no good people, only people. High Tide, I don't think, really believes that people are even capable of any action that isn't self-interested and venal. I guess the one thing I know for certain nowadays is that rich people are different from poor people. I know that. And I know it's good to be careful. Programme: World Cinema Dramatic Competition