Tell That to the Winter Sea: Melancholy Nostalgia

Courtesy of Kaleidoscope Entertainment

Last summer’s Past Lives opened with the line “Who do you think they are to each other?” It’s a question uttered by two strangers in a bar watching the three main characters of Past Lives interact with one another. It’s intoxicating to try to piece together the puzzle of the relationships of strangers. It’s voyeuristic and nosey, but also impossible to resist. Past Lives’ opening question could also be easily applied to the two main characters of Tell That to the Winter Sea to introduce the tangled relationship that is at the center of this film. Like Past Lives, Tell That to the Winter Sea weaves a tale of the meaning two people have created in each other’s life.

Immediately, there’s a visual divide between Jo (Greta Bellamacina) and Scarlet (Amber Anderson). We see Jo as she’s busying herself in a pastel country manor. It’s bright and airy, a setting that, had it been more symmetrical, could have found its way into a Wes Anderson film. There’s the sense that Jo has things planned to an immaculate degree. That’s why it’s jarring when the film finally gives the audience its first look at Scarlet. She’s driving in her car, on her way to Jo, and the car is a dark abyss. She’s traveling because Jo is getting married in one week and Scarlet has been invited to the hen party. Over the course of the weekend, Jo and Scarlet, once best friends, now distant, reminisce about their shared history and what it means for their futures.

Scarlet leans her cheek against the bathtub looking sad from Tell That to the Winter Sea
Courtesy of Kaleidoscope Entertainment

It’s fairly easy to pick up on some of the hints in Tell That to the Winter Sea about the exact truth of Jo and Scarlet’s relationship, but it takes quite a bit of time for the totality of their friendship to become clear. That’s not a bad thing at all. In fact, it’s thrilling to watch them dance on eggshells at times and fully smash them at others. Director (and co-writer) Jaclyn Bethany keeps the camera close in these scenes, allowing the viewer to pay careful attention to the way Jo and Scarlet react to one another. It’s almost too personal, but it’s also why we’re all here. To unpack what these women mean to each other, why they haven’t spoken in years, and why they’ve decided that now is the time to come together again.

“Do you ever think about us?” Scarlet asks quietly. It’s a loaded question, one she might not even want the answer to, but one that she asks mere days before her friend’s wedding. It’s the sort of simple question that can send a person reeling. It’s the question that really elevates the viewer’s heart rate. Movies don’t need aliens or explosions to make someone’s heart race. They can just cut through all the nonsense and noise to ask a simple, deeply vulnerable question. Tell That to the Winter Sea is the excavation of a relationship by someone who yearns for the past and someone else who’s made peace with it.

Jo looking out the window from Tell That to the Winter Sea
Courtesy of Kaleidoscope Entertainment

While most of Tell That to the Winter Sea is carried by Bellamacina (who also co-wrote the film with Bethany) and Anderson and the tension between their characters, Tell That to the Winter Sea allows the intensity to ebb with the introduction of the rest of the bridal party. Like Jo and Scarlet, there’s a shared history among them, but not one that’s as charged as the two leads. All the characters attended the same Catholic school and have taken different paths in the interim. One of them is pregnant, another stayed involved in the church, and another is only interested in casual relationships. These women, despite their long-ago connection, have massively different opinions when it comes to marriage, pregnancy, motherhood, and other topics that come up over the course of the weekend. Their conversations make for a compelling complementary story to the central relationship of Jo and Scarlet.

Jo and Scarlet dancing in a field
Courtesy of Kaleidoscope Entertainment

Tell That to the Winter Sea has a few flashbacks to Jo and Scarlet as teenagers. We see the beginning of their friendship and how it developed, and compare these interactions to their present-day selves. One moment in particular, toward the end of the film, sees Jo and Scarlet playing a game they played as teenagers where they finish each other’s sentences. The film cuts back and forth between time periods during the game to show how different versions of ourselves can exist simultaneously. At any moment, we’re sixteen and five and thirty years old, the sum of our lives. When you play a game or eat a snack or hear a song that’s intrinsically linked to a specific moment of your life, it’s a means of time travel. In that moment, Jo and Scarlet see themselves at present and as teenagers, viewing the chasm that has opened between their current and past selves.

“Being with you reminds me of the idea of going back home,” Jo admits to Scarlet. She explains that she doesn’t actually like returning to their small town, but she does like the idea of it. Of the intimate sense of familiarity that exists for the place where she grew up. Tell That to the Winter Sea is about the pain and beauty of knowing a person. Understanding that by weaving your life with someone else’s, you open yourself up to loss, and yet, you do so knowing the risks.

Tell That To The Winter Sea will be in Select UK Cinemas from 31st May, TVOD / EST from 1st July and PVD & SVOD from 29th July

Written by Tina Kakadelis

News Editor for Film Obsessive. Movie and pop culture writer. Seen a lot of movies, got a lot of opinions. Let's get Carey Mulligan her Oscar.

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