Red Moon Tide review – sea spirits haunt the Spanish coast

A fishing community is frozen in time after the disappearance of a local hero in this unsettling and austerely poetic tale

The strange and striking landscapes of coastal Galicia in northwest Spain are the backdrop to this beguiling landscape film, less a conventional narrative and more a haunting prose piece, tying together ancient superstitions with fears of a coming environmental apocalypse.

The central story concerns the disappearance of a local fisherman, Rubio, who believed a sea monster was responsible for the community’s dwindling catch and set out to hunt it down. Rubio is something of a local hero who, we are told, has saved more than 40 people from drowning. In his absence, the town almost literally comes to a standstill. His story is recounted in voiceover by various townsfolk, whom we see standing stock still in the landscape, as if frozen in time.

The entire film is told in this fashion. There are no conventional scenes or dialogue, only voiceover and occasional intertitles. Visually it is a series of static or slightly mobile tableaux, often evocative and meticulously composed – somewhere between Andrei Tarkovsky and photographer Andreas Gursky. There are wide, open landscapes, plains, woodlands, mysteriously shaped rocks, moonlit seas (the lunar cycle is implicated in the sea monster’s arrival). There are austere interiors so still the livestock now wander through them.

Some of the imagery plays tricks with scale: what appears at first to be water running down a wall turns out to be a vast concrete dam. The soundtrack is full of moaning and wailing and keening of monsters of the deep, and occasionally the squelching footsteps of an invisible walker – presumably the spirit of Rubio. Providing some narrative impetus are three witches who arrive to help look for Rubio. They drape the static townsfolk in white sheets, like ghosts.

The trance-like pacing and mystical meditation might frustrate viewers looking for an easy watch, but local film-maker Lois Patiño is clearly operating at the fine-art end of the cinema scale. He applies his distinctive mode to a story that’s both ravishing and unsettling.

• Red Moon Tide is available on 20 April on Mubi.


Steve Rose

The GuardianTramp

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