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IDFA 2023

Review: As the Tide Comes In


- Juan Palacios and Sofie Husum Johannesen’s documentary zooms in on the secluded lives of the people inhabiting the endangered Danish island of Mandø

Review: As the Tide Comes In

Some of us may wonder why many people living in highly endangered areas of our planet may be so attached to the places they inhabit, even to the point of never leaving them, despite being aware of the risks they might be facing and seeing no concrete prospects for their future. Often, their existences seem to be stuck in a rut in time and don’t change significantly; in other cases, they deny that societal or geographical transformations are unfolding, only to remain hidden in their “shelters” or fight against them.

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The documentary As the Tide Comes In, helmed by Juan Palacios with co-director Sofie Husum Johannesen and world-premiered in the main competition of this year’s IDFA, doesn’t provide viewers with any clear answers. In detail, it zooms in on the lives of some of the 27 residents still living on the Danish Wadden Sea island of Mandø, who are all used to severe weather and flooding.

It’s an interesting perspective, since the secluded inhabitants of this eight-square-kilometre island are also among the first victims of, and witnesses to, the effects of climate change, and Mandø’s very existence is already at stake. Here, Palacios and Husum Johannesen choose to take a closer look at a man in his forties called Gregers. Torn between resignation and stubbornness, Gregers is one of the last farmers left on the island, who refuses to build his life elsewhere and seems to be ignoring the impending catastrophe. We also find out that he is a climate-change sceptic. Meanwhile, he hopes to find a wife to manage his farm with him through auditioning for a reality show and using dating apps.

The filmmakers frame the farmer without judging him – sometimes, they come very close to his personal space, but their gaze is never obtrusive. Inevitably, observing his life and behaviour ends up being a sort of anthropological experience. While a few aspects of his everyday routine may be more or less relatable to most of the audience, his attachment to the land and his radical point of view may be much more difficult to grasp.

Besides, Gregers is part of a microcosm populated by a few other characters such as the elderly Mie, who, as the film progresses, celebrates her 99th and 100th birthdays, and Niels, a birdwatcher who notices how the few species of birds that used to visit the island have totally disappeared.

The glimpses into Gregers’ and the community’s lives are accompanied by visually appealing wide shots of the landscape, wherein the sky and the sea are the absolute protagonists. There is a sense of doom and resignation delivered throughout – with some more ironic beats – and this very peculiar, bittersweet atmosphere is further enhanced by Morten Svenstrup’s minimalist score and the subdued colour palette spanning green, grey and blue.

As the Tide Comes In is an Elk Film (Denmark) production. The outfit is also selling the picture worldwide.

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