‘High Tide’ Review: A Lukewarm Queer Immigrant Drama With a Blazing Lead Performance

A scattered but intimate drama about a queer immigrant left adrift, Marco Calvani’s “High Tide” boasts an impeccable leading performance that buoys the movie even at its weakest. Strung together by gentle moments, it follows Brazilian émigré Lourenço (Marco Pigossi) as he anticipates the return of his American lover in Provincetown — Massachusetts’ gay promised land — while running out the clock on his visa. As kindness and cruelty tear Lourenço asunder, Pigossi delivers a stunning performance that practically heat-welds together the film’s disparate parts, making it feel whole despite the flaws in its construction.

From the moment “High Tide” opens, Calvani demands his audience’s attention through the contrast of gentle waves caressing the shore and the stark image of Lourenço stripping off his clothes and lunging towards the ocean in a moment of emotional crisis. This scene returns later in the film, bolstered by more narrative context, but dangling it before the viewer this way conjures images of undocumented migrants taking desperately to the water in search of refuge.

Lourenço isn’t quite a refugee, nor is he “undocumented” in the literal sense (despite the term being used to describe him numerous times). Rather, his tourist visa is about to expire, and the route to staying on in the U.S. legally is winding and fraught with mile-high hurdles, despite his specialized accounting degree. So, while waiting for his sweetheart Joe to return — the real circumstances between the couple are left ambiguous at first — he takes up under-the-table odd jobs cleaning and painting rich people’s summer homes, while living in the tiny guest house of a friend of Joe’s, the kindly, conversational, occasionally overbearing Scott (Bill Irwin), an older gay man who becomes his temporary anchor.

As he waits for Joe, Lourenço eventually meets Maurice (James Bland), an attractive, soft-spoken Black doctor from Queens on his way to a residency in Angola. Despite being yet another impermanent fixture in Lourenço’s life, Maurice provides him with a brief enough spark to begin reconsidering his seemingly dire circumstances — or rather, to begin seeing them in a new light. Their dynamic is sweet, if often overwrought in its writing, especially when Calvani attempts to fold malformed critiques of white queerness into his purview.

Whether recollections of racial animus or confessions of desire, the spoken words with which Pigossi and Bland are saddled echo an amateurish high school stage productions. However, they’re performed with sincerity and innocence at every turn. Pigossi is especially adept at taking these function-first lines of dialogue and imbuing them with longing. He harbors a deep uncertainty behind his eyes, but a soulfulness as well, which he alchemizes into a performance that’s both beautiful and devastating (even when the movie around him often converges toward the trite and familiar).

Executive producer Marisa Tomei and “Tangerine” star Mya Taylor show up in minor supporting roles that, despite their brevity, allow both women to provide meaningful, energetic contrast to Pigossi’s reserve. But ultimately, what allows “High Tide” to work despite itself is its liberating sense of vulnerability. Courtesy of cinematographer Oscar Ignacio Jiménez, its tight close-ups of locked eyes, smiling mouths, naked stretch marks and feet wrapped around lovers’ waists combine to create a mode of hypnotic cinematic intimacy, which the film frequently enters for lengthy stretches.

Beyond the overwhelming uncertainty of Lourenço’s visa conundrum, few of the movie’s far-flung social themes find themselves aestheticized or dramatized with much precision. However, Pigossi takes this idea of impermanence and transforms it so deftly into a sense of instability — of shifting sand beneath one’s feet — that he warps the film around himself, making it feel unpredictable even as familiar romantic beats and gestures play out on-screen. It’s a radiant, heartfelt performance that not only keeps “High Tide” interesting, but makes it feel exuberant on occasion too.


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