'Red Moon Tide' ('Lua vermella'): Film Review | Berlin 2020

Courtesy of Zeitun Films
Film meets incantation on Spain's wild west coast.

The second feature-length film by Spanish multihyphenate Lois Patino premiered in the Forum section of the German festival.

Lois Patino consolidates his reputation as a leading European exponent of poetic moving images with his second feature-length effort, Red Moon Tide (Lua vermella). A challenging work which punctuates taxing stretches of austere stasis with interludes of sublime beauty — including a ravishingly spectacular underwater finale — it uses a slight fable of a story as framework for some extravagant sensory stimulations.

This mythologically inspired tale of enigmatic supernatural doings on Spain's rugged northwest coast bowed at the Berlinale Forum ahead of Manhattan's New Directors / New Films and prominent festivals in South America (Cartagena, Colombia) and Mexico City (FICUNAM). Further bookings at international events receptive to adventurous and unconventional fare will follow, although careful handling will be required if Patino's hypnotic achievement is to break significantly beyond his current limited but ardent following.

The 36-year-old hails from Galicia, the area due north of Portugal which has recently proven an incandescent hotbed of emerging talent at the more lyrical and experimental end of the spectrum. Notable fruits have included this year's Goya-winning Fire Will Come by Oliver Laxe, whose brother Felipe Lage Coro is a main producer here. Patino, meanwhile, celebrated his windy, rainswept region and its littoral with 2013's Costa da morte (Coast of Death), which won him the best emerging director award in Locarno's Cineasti del Presenti competition and enjoyed extensive festival exposure.

Most of his shorts since then have stayed close to home; all of them are uneventful, gently paced mood pieces notable for their bold and beautiful visual sense more than any concerns with narrative. His "characters," such as they are, exist as two dimensional entities, their "dialogue" a matter of murmured thoughts to which we are allowed access. The storytelling burden is shared with periodic intertitles: "The monster is the sea. It has been asleep for centuries. We are its dream," and so on (and on).

Working as his own cinematographer, Patino once again shows virtuoso flair with images, many of which nod to painterly antecedents such as landscape genius Caspar David Friedrich. He directly cites Jean-Francois Millet's 1859 masterpiece The Angelus, in which a farming couple stand in their field at prayer, as a particular influence. The image of country folk framed in static immobility recurs again and again in Red Moon Tide; such near-paralysis ("prisoners in our own bodies") has for unspecified reasons become a kind of epidemic in and around the (nameless) village depicted, ever since a shipwreck seemingly claimed the life of a local fisherman, Rubio (Rubio de Camelle).

It is as if some kind of malevolent spell has descended on the area, suspending everyone in a kind of glum trance. Viewers au fait with slow cinema trends of recent decades will be all too familiar with such morose, brooding immobility — especially prevalent when, as here, non-pro actors dominate a cast. Patino at least provides some kind of rationale for the widespread, enervating torpor.

The pace perks up, albeit only fractionally, around the 24-minute mark when a trio of mute, elderly "witches" (Ana Marra, Carmen Martinez, Pilar Rodlos) materialize seemingly out of nowhere. Their ambulations and ritual machinations take up much of the remaining hour of running time. These activities include shrouding the statuesque villagers in white sheets — the ghostly results perhaps a sly nod to Sergio Caballero's Rotterdam Tiger winner Finisterrae (2010), which so hilariously parodied and satirized the more pretentious excesses of art house cinema in Spain and far beyond.

Patino, by contrast, operates with the straightest of faces, though the climactic, noisy appearance of a much-feared sea monster referred to intermittently throughout does perhaps carry with it a streak of offbeat humor. This creature turns out to be an outsized whale shark, the bioluminescent splotches on its epidermis sparkling with an alluringly rosy hue under the rays of the blood-red moon. The much-heralded reappearance of Rubio around the hour mark has presaged this color shift, bathing everything in a deep, unearthly cherry reminiscent of silent movie tintings.

An incantation of folky superstition, nautical bizarrerie and the glories of extreme land/seascapes, Red Moon Tide functions as a claustrophobically repetitive closed circuit of ideas, phrases, images and sounds. Several set pieces feature the exteriors and interiors of a vast dam which has stopped up the local river — causing some inexplicable energy blockage, seemingly the root of all evil here — as well as the watercourse itself and its forested, foggy banks.

Patino, who with one specific image of undulating verdant river flora quotes directly from Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris, has also learned from the Soviet master's editor Lyudmila Feiginova the trick of alleviating longueurs with a judicious sprinkling of majestic, magical coups de cinema. Working with cutters Pablo Gil Rituerto and Oscar de Gispert, Patino assembles a fragile vessel freighted with foreboding and dread, one that risks the reefs of ponderousness at numerous junctures but steers into the tranquil waters of the romantic sublime.

Production companies: Zeitun Films, Amanita Studios
Cast: Rubio de Camelle, Ana Marra, Carmen Martinez, Pilar Rodlos
Director-screenwriter-cinematographer: Lois Patino
Producer: Felipe Lage Coro
Co-producers: Ivan Patino, Monforte de Lemos
Production designer: Jaione Camborda
Costume designer: Judith Adataberna
Editors: Pablo Gil Rituerto, Oscar de Gispert, Lois Patino
Sound designer: Juan Carlos Blancas
Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Forum)
Sales: Lights On, Turin, Italy

In Galician
85 minutes