29 September 2007 | salieri125
Snatched from the Jaws of Life
There's no way for me to talk about this film without making it personal. I can recall the age of eight, wandering around the square desert of my parents' backyard, action figures in hand, thinking up stories, doing voices. Tideland plays to that sort of nostalgia, but it balances it with a darkness visible on the horizon that cancels out whatever baser desires such nostalgia plays to. I imagine when I see the film's landscape (and the house)how wonderful the setting would have been to that sort of play, how much such play could benefit from that setting, and how lost one could get in it all. Permanently lost. The fields transforming into a sea is a great metaphor for that.
Tideland is a tragedy. We, the audience, know or suspect that Jeliza-Rose isn't going to turn out well after this movie's over, that her imagination may be keeping her alive and marginally sane, but it's out of desperation (and it's clear that she understands much more of what's going on than is explicitly stated - observe her knowing looks, as in the scene where Dickens leaves her alone), that the little girl is going through so much for relatively little. In a way this film is about what many viewers incorrectly believe Gilliam's Brazil to be about: the triumph of the imagination. But, if anything, in Brazil Sam Lowry's imagination is what causes the trouble to begin with, and in the end is his last resort. In Tideland, imagination is defeated. In the end it's like one of those horror films where the heroine survives all, only to be shown walking away with the monster/killer still behind her/in her house/in the backseat of the car/etc. But there's an emotional resonance here that can't be found in, say, Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street because Jeliza-Rose has no literal fate, has no death but life. She returns to the real world. And I suppose that's the tragedy.
This is Gilliam's most complete film since Brazil; it has an emotional quality, an imaginative quality, and a GENUINE quality that no other Gilliam film has, and which few other films, period, have these days (cinema as it is now being so choked with irony). With Brazil we may be tempted to cry at the end if we are quick to tears, but with Tideland we may be tempted to develop tears anywhere. It reminds me of Forbidden Games, of Spirit of the Beehive, of Truffaut's Small Change, of Renoir's The River, of The Wizard of Oz, of Curse of the Cat People, and in some ways of Ford's How Green Was My Valley. It has pedigree.
Ferland's performance is nothing short of supernatural. She carries the film when it wanders or when it becomes flat out strange. She is that human voice in the wilderness.
Not that there aren't some problems. The accents are fairly ridiculous all of the time and all the supporting characters are Gothic caricatures with performances to match, but then this is a child's world and a child's field of vision, and so I can accept these. The point is that reality doesn't much enter into it. There isn't much plot to speak of and this turns up in a few draggy sections. But this film has an absorbing quality too, and I find that if I turn it on I am compelled to watch all of it.
I keep thinking of Pan's Labyrinth, which was so critically lauded while Tideland was so despised. PL's an okay movie, but it's a cynical adult tale of childhood, detached in its understanding and sort of heartless and cruel. The problem is that there is such an obvious disconnect between reality and the imaginary world. They exist separately. Of course, the Spanish Civil War setting is really no more real that Ofelia's own world, no less cartoonish than the world of Tideland. But it tries so hard to be harsh and gritty. It is just so difficult for me to *buy* Pan's Labyrinth, to take it seriously OR to NOT take it seriously. Tideland is a story about a real person living in a believable (or at least buyable)world. And I suspect that this is why Pan's Labyrinth is so critically lauded while Tideland is so critically despised - because it is unwilling to offend. Also, where PL is unfathomably ugly, Tideland is quite beautiful.
Overall, this may the only film of last year I can honestly say I liked, that made me feel anything for it. So it's good.