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‘High Tide’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 25, 1988


Gillian Armstrong
Judy Davis;
Jan Adele;
Claudia Karvan;
Colin Friels
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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Actress Judy Davis floods "High Tide" with a quirky serenity. As Lilli, she's an irresponsible but irrepressibly charming woman running from a tragic past. And in Gillian Armstrong's handsomely shot "High Tide," the past catches up.

Armstrong ("My Brilliant Career") and screenwriter Laura Jones surf clear of the usual sentimental family reunions to give you a provocative (although occasionally bumpy) ride along the beach of backroads Australia.

We meet Lilli on a floor-show tour as one of three backup singers to a paunchy, aging Elvis Presley imitator who sings Chuck Berry songs. Lilli's disdain for the gig (it involves jump suits and platinum blond wigs) gets her fired after a show at the Mermaid Caravan Park, Eden. Now she's bereft ("free again," as she says) at a tacky beachside trailer park for bored children, surfers and wizened pinball wizards, and stalled by a car that needs $600 worth of repairs.

Among the bored is young surfer Ally (a striking and confident Claudia Karvan), who lives under the loving but repressive thumb of her grandmother Bet (Jan Adele). In a drunken stupor, Lilli befriends Ally before realizing this is the daughter she once deserted. Lilly finds out the truth by running into Bet (Lilli's former mother-in-law), who isn't exactly happy about Lilli's absence all these years. Bet, who's told Ally her mother's dead, tells Lilli to leave.

Chances of a mother-daughter reunion are dim. Lilli herself has little desire to open old wounds; she's also the practical type who, for instance, dances striptease one night to pay the auto repair bill. She's also busy having a fling with local guy Mick (Colin Friels -- Davis' real-life husband). To return to Ally, she'll have to change her nomadic morals and reconcile love with responsibility.

The pace meanders sometimes, as we watch Ally interacting with her teeny Aussie friends and Bet trading affairs with old salt Col (John Clayton) and a Buffalo-Bill-cum-country-singer character. The rather functional affair between Lilli and Mick -- which scriptwriter Jones takes pains to introduce -- gets rather functionally dropped. But the idiosyncrasies of the people and locale (as emphasized by a ceaselessly moving camera that glides around the countryside's decrepit caravans and craggy beauty) provide the momentum to get back to the main strand -- mother and daughter's rekindled love. And Davis and Karvan are very beautiful together.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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