HIGH TIDE (director: Gillian Armstrong; screenwriter: Laura Jones; cinematographer: Russell Boyd; editor: Nicholas Beauman; cast: Judy Davis (Lilli), Jan Adele (Bet), Claudia Karvan (Ally), Colin Friels (Mick, fisherman/artist boyfriend of Lili), John Clayton (Col, Bet's Boyfriend), Frankie J Holden (Lester, Elvis Lookalike), 'Cowboy' Bob Purtell (Country Joe), Barry Rugless (Club Manager); Runtime: 102; Polygram/ Hemdale Films; 1988-Australia)

"An emotionally gripping woman's pic about a woman accidently discovering her past."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An emotionally gripping woman's pic about a woman accidentally discovering her past. This is an unsentimental and marvelously acted family drama, set in a backwater Australian seacoast town. The script by Laura Jones is intelligent and pertinent, the woman director Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career) has made a nearly flawless film, and the three lead actresses draw out their complicated characters in ways that touch the heart with the mark of unbridled reality.

Lilli (Judy Davis) is one of a trio of backup singers for an Elvis impersonator act, who all wear blonde mophead wigs and jump suits. She has gotten under Elvis' skin with her disdainful attitude for his sleazy act, and he fires her after the last stop of the tour in a remote town on the coast of New South Wales. When her car breaks down and cost $600 bucks to fix and she has to wait for the parts to come from the big city, she rents a caravan in a nearby trailer park.

By coincidence, when drunk on the floor of the trailer park' communal bathroom Lilli's helped to her feet by the teenaged daughter she hasn't seen since she was a baby. Lilli doesn't realize that's her daughter, but the next day she spots her mother-in-law, Bet (Jan Adele), who hates her and never forgave her for deserting her daughter after her surfer husband died. Bet has raised the kid telling her both parents were dead, and makes it clear to Lilli that she's not welcome here now. Bet supports herself by working in a fish factory, driving during the summer an ice cream truck, and occasionally singing on weekends at the local club. Ally never questioned that both parents were dead, but wonders what they were like. Her only ambition is to be a surfer like her father.

The mother's maternal instincts return, as she's curious about her daughter and goes out of her way to meet her. This makes Bet very hostile, as she is anxious for Lilli to get her car fixed and be gone before on a whim she might decide to take her daughter. But Lilli doesn't have the money to pay for the car, and is forced to take a job on the weekend stripping at the local club.

In the meantime Lilli has already met a boyfriend, Mick (Colin Friels), whose wife deserted him taking with her their son but leaving him with their daughter. He's a fisherman and an artist, not making much money but with ambitions to get a chartered fishing business going and get Lilli to marry him and raise a family. This kind of normalcy freaks her out and she leaves him after their brief stop at a motel away from the town, but in a moment of intimate bedroom conversation tells him about her daughter.

When Mick runs into Ally in a store, he tells her that woman she had dinner with last night was her mother.

The mother has to now face herself and what she did, as the film presents an interesting dilemma. After all, it is not usually the mother who deserts the child. Lilli must come to terms with the nomadic, adventurous life she has been leading, and the guilt about how she treated her daughter and that she was a coward in running away.

The film doesn't flinch and tells the story without leaving a way out for any of the parties involved to excuse themselves. It shows that a mother doesn't have to be perfect; she can have flaws as almost all do, but there's something about a child being raised by her real mother that means so much to both. There are no easy answers given, what the film does best is concentrate on how this accidental meeting has a devastating effect on all three lives.

REVIEWED ON 9/18/2001     GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"