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‘High Tide’ Review: An Undocumented Immigrant Finds a Reprieve From His Lonely Limbo in Tender Queer Drama

A haunting lead performance from Marco Pigossi, steeped in melancholy and raw pain but also in moments of openness, optimism and even joy, helps make High Tide an affecting portrait of untethered gay men seeking meaningful connections. Writer-director Marco Calvani’s sensitively observed first feature draws parallels between the isolation of an undocumented Brazilian, nearing the end of his visa and disinclined to return home, and that of a Black American, secure in his tight friendship circle but very much aware he’s the minority in a predominantly white queer tourist mecca — and in the country at large.

About that setting — for anyone who loves Provincetown, this film and its enveloping sense of place will evoke fond associations with the historic fishing village and art colony on the tip of Cape Cod.

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The physical beauty of the landscape and the caressing softness of the light help both to define and contrast the principal characters’ emotional states. The informally dubbed “Boy Beach” plays a significant role, but so too does the half-hour trek on foot from the bike racks to get there, sometimes called the “gay migration.” Local businesses on or just off the main drag, Commercial Street, opened their doors to the small-scale indie production, from the Red Inn restaurant to Angel Foods deli to popular dance club A-House.

The well-acted minor-key drama benefits substantially from its full immersion in this very specific milieu. Also lending texture to the film is the characteristic Brazilian feeling of longing known as suadade, present not only in the sorrowful introspection of Pigossi’s Lourenço but also in the poetry of Oswald de Andrade, heard over the opening shots of a distressed Lourenço plunging naked into the waters of Cape Cod Bay.

Lourenço is staying in a rustic guest cottage across the lane from the kindly owner Scott (Bill Irwin), who is always eager for company. The Brazilian funds his Ptown stay by cleaning vacation rentals and doing temporary jobs for the brusquely unfriendly Bob (Seán Mahon). Lourenço’s heartache is apparent every time his calls to an unseen Joe go to voicemail; we gradually learn that he was dumped earlier in the summer and has been trying, without much success, to figure out his next steps ever since.

The thematic core of High Tide, which takes place over just a few days, is Lourenço oscillating between despair and hope. The latter is represented chiefly by a friendship that sparks up on the beach with Maurice (James Bland), a nurse in town for the week from New York with his posse of druggy queer friends — which includes Mya Taylor, the revelation from Sean Baker’s Tangerine, as Crystal. Calvani lets the mutual attraction between Lourenço and Maurice evolve gently into romance and sex, allowing breathing space for unguarded conversations on the beach under a full moon.

But there are factors preventing Lourenço from completely relaxing into the comfort even of temporary intimacy. A house-painting job in Truro brings warmth in the form of Marisa Tomei’s mellow artist Miriam, but also friction with Bob, still angry because she broke his heart. And Scott’s efforts to connect Lourenço with a lawyer that might be able to help with his immigration status, Todd (Bryan Batt), leave a sour taste when the latter’s obnoxious privilege becomes evident over dinner.

While the narrative is lean but always engaging, Calvani perhaps overstretches by attempting to touch on the shifting economics altering the fabric of Provincetown life. Scott is one of a vanishing generation of gay men who went there “to heal or to die” during the AIDS crisis, which took the life of his partner. Longtime residents like him have little in common with moneyed power gays like Todd who have jacked up the price of real estate, buying multimillion dollar homes that sit unoccupied for all but a week or two a year.

It’s a subject worth exploring, but too fleetingly mentioned here to carry much weight; Calvani makes only a tenuous connection between that demographic change and Lourenço’s limbo, even if it’s clear which side of the growing divide between the haves and have-nots he lands on. The director’s control also falters a little, late in the action, when Lourenço gets wasted at A-House and rejects Maurice, spinning out after hearing news about Joe that shatters any fragile illusions of reconciliation he has left.

But the film gets back on track in its satisfying final stretch, notably in the tender goodbye between Lourenço and Maurice, an exchange so nervous but loaded with feeling that it’s easy to forgive the visual cliché of Oscar Ignacio Jiménez’s camera whirling around them over and over in an extended arc shot. It’s a slightly flashy flourish in a film otherwise characterized by the graceful simplicity of its visuals, which are complemented by Sebastian Plano’s elegant string score.

There’s no big false epiphany, no magic solution to Lourenço’s gnawing visa worries, just an internal awakening conveyed with great subtlety by Pigossi as the character reclaims a sense of himself that was slipping out of his grip. It provides a lovely open ending to a modest but effective movie that speaks from the heart.

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