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High Tide SXSW Review: Sincere LGBTQ Drama

A man walks on the beach holding his sunglasses and hat in the film High Tide

Marco Calvani’s directorial debut High Tide is a three-dimensional story of love and belonging that comes from a place of sincerity.

Every film festival presents an opportunity to discover something that wasn’t previously on your radar. Whether it be a new film, a new filmmaker, or a new actor, great revelations have been made in recent years because of film festivals. High Tide feels like it could be a discovery of a new voice with writer and director Marco Calvani. The indie film tells a simple story about gay love and belonging that comes first and foremost from a place of sincerity.

High Tide focuses on Lourenço (Marco Pigossi), a Brazilian immigrant staying in Provincetown, MA, and his journey of acceptance. But it’s not society at large that he seeks acceptance from. In fact, nearly everyone we meet throughout the film is part of the LGBTQ community. He stays in the guest home of Scott (Bill Irwin) and cleans vacation homes for cash, since he’s technically in the country illegally. It’s not long until he meets Maurice (James Bland), a nurse vacationing with friends, and the two strike up a casual romance.

Pigossi and Bland work well enough together, but it’s Calvani’s dialogue that sells their relationship, in spite of its brevity. ”I’ve always had a sense that my life was happening without me, someplace far away,” espouses Lourenço, as he fears he may never find love, or a fulfilling relationship. Calvani crafts three-dimensional characters that feel like they have lives outside the film, characters that make decisions that are motivated by their impulses, and don’t feel like cogs in the plot’s machine.

At its core, High Tide is a film about belonging, and how easy it is to feel alone, even when surrounded by people you know and care about. Lourenço’s immigration status hangs over all his decisions, including when he talks to his mother, who thinks he’s in a graduate program at Harvard. Less successful is the subplot involving Lourenço’s longing for Joe, a previous lover who he’s lost contact with and hopes to be his ticket to legalization. The film hints at this early on without really exploring it, and it almost disappears completely until the third act. If Calvani had either cut this element entirely, or more heavily invested in it, the final moments would likely be more impactful. Marisa Tomei pops in and out of the film as a local artist whose home Lourenço helps fix, and while I’ll never complain about seeing more Tomei, it’s almost distracting to see an actress of her magnitude in a film of this scale.

A red shot of a topless man in the film High Tide
High Tide (Marco Pigossi, Courtesy of LD Entertainment / SXSW)

Still, I appreciate Calvani’s refusal to add drama for the sake of having drama, and for his unflinchingly honest way of depicting the film’s occasional love scenes. For most of the time after Maurice enters the film, High Tide is largely plotless, instead coasting on Pigossi and Bland’s chemistry. Most filmmakers would instinctively play into the looming expiration date on Lourenço and Maurice’s time together, but Calvani makes them both smart enough to know it’s likely not meant to last. This doesn’t diminish the stakes of their fling though, as they each see something in one another that’s been missing from their lives.

Whether High Tide ever reaches a larger audience or not, it’s a smartly executed story with realistic characters, in a set of circumstances that aren’t seen often enough in film. Films about gay love are generally more widely seen of late, but this is a film that shouldn’t be pigeon-holed into this specific niche genre.

High Tide was screened at SXSW on March 8-12, 2024. Read our SXSW reviews and our list of films to watch at SXSW 2024!

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