Director: Tupaq Felber
Cast: Jon Foster, Robyn Isaac, Simon Meacock, Jamie Zubairi
Watch Tides online in the UK: BFI Player
There are around 2,200 miles of canals in the UK – more miles than there are of motorways. While road movies are a familiar genre in cinemas, though, canal movies are few and far between. Thank goodness, then, for Tides, an amiable indie that takes us on a gentle excursion down England’s waterways. Beneath its pretty rural surface lie hidden depths that never quite disrupt the current, but do cause intriguing ripples to spread.
The barge vacation is instigated by Zooby (Jamie Zubairi) and Simon (Simon Meacock), friends of Jon (Jon Foster) who decide to take him on an impromptu holiday. That off-the-cuff mood is captured brilliantly by the cast, who half-improvise the dialogue that pings back and forth between them. Each performer is credited as a co-writer with director Tupaq Felber, and it’s not hard to see why: they have an effortless, easygoing chemistry that sees their conversations descend into overlapping banter and knowing references.
But loud or unsubtle this isn’t: Tides is a decidedly low-key affair, one that floats along without grand parties or even melodramatic shouting matches. Boat Trip, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Roger Moore, this ain’t. That laidback approach also means those seeking a structured plot may feel like they’re left treading water; the nearest we get to a narrative is the departure of Red (Robyn Isaac, also excellent), the sole woman in the group, halfway through. Oh, and a trip to Sainsbury’s.
But Red’s presence also provides an emotional anchor that allows a nuanced tension to trickle down through the ensemble – not only because of the unspoken feelings between Jon and her, or the connection she seems to share with Zooby, but also because once gone, her absence prompts a more honest exchange between the blokes, and the reason behind them sailing away becomes more apparent. Jon, we learn, is coming to terms with a gently hinted-at loss, and his mates have rallied around to either console or distract him, or both. What is the exact nature of his tragedy? That’s never explicitly said – all too fitting for a study in male grief, of testosterone-fuelled camaraderie and the lack of communication that can go with it.
Felber chronicles the shifting dynamics of the 40-something group with an authenticity that’s charming, and it’s contrasted by the gorgeous black-and-white visuals, which bring a fresh strangeness to the South East English countryside; monochrome is the wrong word for Paul O’Callaghan’s cinematography, which finds wonderful shades of grey in the water, the barge’s lighting and even the supermarket aisles.
The result is an amusing drama that navigates the complexities that come with four decades of existing. It occasionally frustrates that Tides doesn’t channel that understanding into something more substantial, but the movie’s simultaneously at its best in the way it dawdles languorously along, observing the world go by almost at a distance – the only obstacle in their way the locks they have to open and close, mini floodgates that flow briefly and are closed again quickly, as the boat gradually moves forward. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, and it’s telling that Felber doesn’t make a point of reaching for it, instead sitting back to enjoy the sight of a small child’s dog struggling to climb out from the water. Reassuringly, he makes it in the end.
Tides is available in UK cinemas and on BFI Player.