Judy Davis, High Tide

Saturday, January 21, 2006

(image from
the VHS cover)

Friday, April 08, 2005

David Denby

The taut young Australian actress Judy Davis has the most arresting face in movies today. In Gillian Armstrong's High Tide, she is very pale, with scarlet, amost purple lips and high cheekbones, and at times she emits the Medusa-like malevolence of Bette Davis at her most fierce. The movie is only so-so, but Davis gives her fullest performance yet. She plays a woman whose husband has died, causing her to abandon a baby daughter in grief and muck up her life. Years later, she runs into the girl, now a teenager. Davis's character is self-hating but proud, intelligent but willfully idsorganized, capable of great tenderness and also great cruelty. The movie is about her attempts to pull herself together and assume responsibility for the girl. Davis makes every facet of this woman's consciousness dramatic. We can see her nerves shrieking in pain and, now and then, in pleasure.

David Denby
New York, March 7, 1988

Pauline Kael

“. . . . [I]t's also a women's picture in a new way: Gillian Armstrong . . . has the technique and the assurance to put a woman't fluid, not fully articulated emotions right onto the screen. And she has an actress--Judy Davis, the Sybylla of My Brilliant Career and the Adela Quested of David Lean's A Passage to India--who's a genius at moods….”

Lilli is so overcast--so unsure of herself--that we feel a mystery in her, despite her level gaze. Tall, skinny, red-haired Judy Davis was only twenty-three when she played her first leading role onscreen--in My Brilliant Career, in 1979. She may never have looked as beautiful as she does here in a motel-room scene with Colin Friels: he's lying on the bed, and she's standing by the window with her wavy hair wet from the shower. She's like a sea goddess . . . .

. . . . The acute, well-written script acknowledges the basic ineffableness of some experiences, especially in a self-conscious scene toward the end where Lilli tries to explain to Ally why she deserted her. And it all goes together. It goes with the way Lilli looks when she's about to leave town and abandon her daughter for the second time; paying off the garage mechanic and thanking him, she's white as death. Judy Davis has been compared with Jeanne Moreau, and that's apt, but she's Moreau without the cultural swank, the high-fashion gloss . . . .

Pauline Kael
February 22, 1988
Hooked, pp 432-435

Molly Haskell

The Australian film High Tide gives us an unforgettable mother and daughter who lose and then find one another again. Reuniting director Gillian Armstrong and actress Judy Davis, the formidable team that triumphed eight years ago with My Brilliant Career, the new film is about a very different kind of go-it-alone woman. The difference here is that the mother (Davis), a back-up singer with touring bands, has given up the girl not because of altruism or social ambition but out of anger and fecklessness. . . . When she finally reclaims her daughter, in the halting, back-and-forth moves of this unusual love story, she reclaims herself as well.

With her mercurial face, Davis gives a performance that is an astonishing blend of spirituality and low-life authenticity. Wearing black-red lipstick and no other makeup, she refuses to tart herself up like the other showgirls. Even when she's humiliated--a woman without money, job, or a man--she conveys a core of self-worth.

Claudia Karvan as the little surfer daughter and Jan Adele as the overbearing grandmother are as moving and believable as Davis. . . .

Molly Haskell
Vogue, date ?

David Ansen

Gillian Armstrong's women prefer life on the edge. [Ansen cites the protagonists of My Brilliant Career and Mrs. Soffel] . . . Now, in High Tide, Armstrong appears to be having second thoughts. Perhaps living dangerously isn't all it's cracked up to be. Welcome to the clean-up-your-act decade.

Her latest heroine, Lilli (Judy Davis again), is a hard-drinking drifter on the tatty edges of showbiz….

. . . . [Ally] doesn't realize this glamorousl dissolute woman is her mother.

. . . . [A]ll three leads are terrific. Davis, with her surly allure, has the most lived-in face since Jeanne Moreau, young Karvan possesses a heartbreaking honesty, and the blowzy Adele makes her character a fascinatingly ambiguous mixture of warmth and crudity. . . .

David Ansen
Newsweek, February 1, 1988