Lois Patiño’s second feature film Lúa Vermella (Red Moon Tide) received its world premier at Berlinale 2020. The Spanish artist & filmmaker has gained a reputation as one of Europe’s leading visual poets and arthouse filmmakers with his debut Coast of Death, a film which was acclaimed amongst festivals internationally. Once again returning to his native Galicia, Spain, Patiño continues to bleed the Iberian Peninsula for its beauty. Sensorial experiences are a fundamental element to Patiño’s films and video installations, traversing ethereal plains of reality and translating them into visual poetry. Red Moon Tide’s mostly-abstract narrative revolves around Galician folklore, a perilous, merciless sea, three local witches and a strange man named Rubio (Rubio de Camelle). Whilst Rubio in part narrates his own story- in which he saves many a soul from the unforgiving seas- he also falls mysteriously to the dark waters close to a rugged northern Spain.
Immense in magnitude and scope, Red Moon Tide etches vast landscapes that determine much of the plot and character direction. Common in Patiño’s work are large foreboding locations, though here the camera also works closer to the characters to pick up on emotional interactions. Wilfully attempting to balance arthouse film and video art, the film often becomes too abstract to be fully engaging, relying more on its visual and auditory power to enthral viewers. Much like David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, Patiño represents unliving spectres in white sheets. Whilst layers of metaphor, myth and poetry revel in a poignant tragedy, the narrative is fragmented; audiences looking for more than sublime cinematography may come away disappointed and disconnected from the film.
The fragmented narrative is a consequence of Patiño’s focus on amassing imagery that is intended to channel various notions of loss. Whilst avant-garde and experimental, the film is essentially a short film followed by 70 minutes of striking imagery. Unfortunately jarring, the plot and imagery is accompanied by non-linear narration from Rubio and townspeople revolving around the character’s disappearance and larger profound sentiments on time and existentialism. While remaining a visually striking love letter to Galicia, the film leaves its audience in unrewarding suspense for too long. The plot attempts to translate several influences from the sub-‘Lovecraftian’ and Shakespearean to Spanish folklore and an age-old fear of the raging seas. Three witches seemingly pivotal to the local town’s safety offer verse and incantation layered over haunting scenes and sequences but their scenes are only minor in effect.
Though the film’s grandiose short plot and imagery are impressive, Patiño makes no effort to bridge the divide between video art and cinema. Red Moon Tide will no doubt enhance his reputation as an immersive visual artist but it will struggle to engage with audiences and make a lasting impression. An inexplicable conclusion unties what work the brief plot had established and undoes all the atmosphere the striking imagery conjures. The overlaying narrative of the film lends itself to two entirely separate films conjoined- tales of loss and tragedy followed by a glaringly overworked pitch about mythology and its underlying significance. Whilst much of the film would benefit from more detail and exposition, the second string of narrative is too corrective and distancing from what it follows. Retreating to paradox and undercooked examinations of the film’s themes suggests Patiño was not willing to trust audiences to remain engaged with his haunting cinematography. Instead of sticking to his convictions, Red Moon Tide develops into more of a contradictory amalgamation, followed by an absurd, unfitting end.