A long weekend away on a narrowboat for a group of forty-somethings, is the backdrop of Tides, an accomplished first feature from Director, Tupaq Felber.

The film opens with Jon, (Jon Foster) and Zooby, (Jamie Zubairi) hiring a barge. There is a brief undercurrent of melancholy hanging in the air as Jon quietly swipes through photos on his phone, before the upbeat tempo is restored and the focus returns to the trip.

From the beginning, Felber sets the tone of real-life dialogue, starting with some lovely interplay between the Jon, Zooby and the boat owner. It’s a gentle yet informative scene, highlighting the fact that the two friends are novices when it comes to handling narrowboats and can barely conceal their eagerness to crack on with their booze and spliff fuelled min-break.

After a short while on the river they are joined by their mate Red (Robyn Isaac), who we are warned might be a bit of a handful, and then by Simon, (Simon Meacock) an actor, who likes the sound of his own voice and who has just flown back from a job abroad.

Jon’s well-being is the main narrative thread and it is quickly established that all the other characters know what has happened to him. Zubairi, Meacock and Isaac, are all superb in their respective roles, as their characters struggle to know whether to reach out to Jon, or to just let him be.

When the reveal comes later, Foster plays it spot on, breaking down in a flood of emotion, and then just as quickly, he fights to regain composure. There is no deep and meaningful deconstruction of what has happened, the friends simply acknowledge it, and then move on with the night. Masterfully layered, this is naturalistic film making at its best.

Loosely scripted in collaboration with the cast, Felber’s dialogue is terrific. Conversations are stop-started, people talk over each other, exchanges vacillate between good natured ribbing, angry outbursts to genuine support. It feels improvised in tone and delivery, and as a result the characters and the storyline feel authentic.

Characterisation is king when it comes to social realism and the four leads are pleasingly distinct, and expertly carried on screen. Much of the humour is mined from exposing personality traits. Witty asides and furtive glances between the group, are often at the expense of one of them.

Tides has an art house aesthetic, shot in black and white, with a playful attitude towards perspective and depth of field. The film makers exploit a mixed-bag of camera angles to great effect; from static wides to close-up images popping up into empty frames. Action and dialogue are intercut with cinematic landscapes, or cutaways of characters, lost in thought. This is slick visual stuff.

Felber captures perfectly the pleasures and the set-backs of growing older - and growing-up, through the prism of friendship. A very enjoyable and self-assured debut.

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