‘Red Moon Tide’ Review: A Village Paralyzed in Grief

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“Red Moon Tide,” the enchanting second feature from the Spanish director Lois Patiño, is a portrait of a seaside village suspended in an extraordinary catatonia. Its transfixion is contagious. Indeed, I was hesitant to move during the experience for atavistic fear of disrupting the trance.

As in his documentary “Coast of Death,” Patiño homes in on the Galician coast, where a community reels from the disappearance of Rubio (Rubio de Camelle), a diver known for recovering the bodies of dozens of shipwrecked sailors. Patiño captures the village’s inhabitants in utter stillness, perhaps deep in thought, bereavement or prayer. In poetic voice-over monologues, they ponder the passing of time and brood on Rubio’s fate. Allusions to a savage sea monster and a monumental dam (which may or may not be one and the same) build a sense of dread.

Though thin on story, the film (streaming on Mubi) is a majestic vision. But most captivating are the settings. Even as the villagers stand motionless, their indoor and outdoor environments thrum with life: Insects swarm, wild animals roam, streams murmur and waves crash against a rocky shoreline. In one splendid shot, Patiño’s camera drifts through a forest, gazing at several field workers through the trees. The men remain frozen even as a herd of white horses gallops into frame, moving with the camera in exalted kinetic energy.

A meditation on Galician mythology accompanies the lush landscapes. Partway into the film, three witches (Ana Marra, Carmen Martínez, Pilar Rodlos) materialize in the region, becoming the only individuals to move onscreen. Intertitles explain that the trio of women are searching for Rubio, though their primary mission seems to be placing white sheets over each of the villagers. Our subjects are veiled like ghosts, and suddenly — especially once the red moon rises and the screen is tinted scarlet — the souls of Rubio and his shipwrecked fishermen don’t feel so far away.

Red Moon Tide
Not rated. In Spanish, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 24 minutes. Watch on Mubi.

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