Lilli is one of three backing singers for a touring Elvis impersonator until she is fired. Then, left alone at the beginning of winter she is stranded in a ramshackle beach town on the windswept coast of New South Wales. This remote, working class, tourist-town has a pervasive sense of rootlessness and movement. The people survive by changing their occupations with the seasons and work hard in small businesses.
Here, stuck in the Mermaid Caravan Park, she encounters her teenage daughter Ally (Claudia Karvan). When Lilli’s young surfer husband had died, she felt lost; she gave up her baby to her mother-in-law, Bet. Lilli has been drifting ever since, and getting wasted. Bet is a rowdy, belligerent woman, devoted to Ally—she has taken care of her for 13 years but she has no idea how unhappy the girl is. Lilli has an immediate rapport with the lonely Ally even before she knows that Ally is her daughter, and after she knows, she can’t take her eyes off her. They belong with each other. but Lilli’s terrified of taking on the responsibilities of motherhood, and Bet tells her she’s riff-raff.
When we first see Ally she is in the water; surfing is—”her refuge from the noisy junkiness of life with Bet. Bet isn’t a monster, she’s simply the wrong person to be raising the pensive Ally, whose emotions are hidden away, like her mother’s. The drama is in our feeling that Lilli must not leave her daughter in the embrace of this raucous old trouper.”
High Tide (1988)
Directed by: Gillian Armstrong
Starring: Judy Davis, Jan Adele, Claudia Karvan, Frankie J. Holden, John Clayton, Colin Friels, Toni Scanlan, Monica Trapaga, May Howlett
Screenplay by: Laura Jones
Production Design by: Sally Campbell
Cinematography by: Russell Boyd
Film Editing by: Nicholas Beauman
Costume Design by: Terry Ryan
Set Decoration by: Tim Ferrier
Art Direction by: Ian Allen
Music by: Peter Best
Distributed by: TriStar Pictures
Release Date: February 19, 1988