Director: Michael Dudok de Wit
Review Author: Tony
Rating: 4.5/5 Pints of Guinness
I found myself at a strange crossroads this weekend as I sat in front of my computer screen examining the cinema listings for my next article. I had two choices, The latest Pirates film or Baywatch. No disrespect to both films but my enthusiasm wasn’t high. It’s the first time since starting ReelTime that it felt like work, like a chore, and even though I will make sure we man up and perform our civic duty to review these films, I just needed something different this weekend. I traded in my popcorn and a large coke for a coffee and visited the nearest indie cinema for a viewing of the Oscar-nominated animation, The Red Turtle.
Unfortunately, I cannot open this review with gushing praise for Studio Ghibli as my only previous experience with the legendary animation studio’s work is the wonderful Spirited Away. It would be insincere to applaud the studio’s vast filmography with such little first-hand experience of their work but this is an issue which I shall soon rectify. Of course, I hold Spirited Away in high regard and I’m sure since we host our ratings at the head of our reviews it’s no shock that I adored this film.
The film opens with a nameless man adrift in a violent storm. As he becomes marooned on a deserted island he quickly sets about getting a lay of the land. Once he finds his bearings as well as a source of food and water, he sets about the task of escaping the island. Building a raft of bamboo, the man attempts to escape the island on multiple occasions. However, each escape is thwarted by an unseen force. During one attempt the man finds the source is a huge red turtle.
As a Dutch-British-Japanese Collaboration (A first for Studio Ghibli), The Red Turtle has a universal feel to it. This is largely due to the fact that it’s almost completely a wordless affair (except for the word hey on a few occasions). We neither know the nationality nor background of this ‘Robinson Crusoe’ figure nor do we know what time period the film is set in. It’s this ambiguity which gives the film a universal voice, as without a language we can only observe this man through his actions. The animation is a mix of vibrant colours and beautiful minimalism. No shot is overcrowded allowing each moment to be easily consumed and embraced. It’s a wonderful mishmash of both early European style animation and Japanese anime.
While the story of being marooned on an island is hardly an original premise, The Red Turtle sets itself apart by never giving the film a clear goal or objective to be achieved. Of course, there are moments of tension and heightened threat but nothing feels forced or constructed. Instead, it’s a piece of escapism, a film to remind us that life’s a marathon, not a sprint. There are clear themes of man vs nature and family dynamics yet neither takes precedence, instead, both are intertwined naturally in Dudok de Wit’s storytelling.
Set to the backdrop of a beautiful string Quartet, The Red Turtle is a series of moments and scenes each as poignant and eloquent as the last. By the closing moments of the film, I could feel a lump in my throat and weary eyes. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this film hit me on such an emotional level. The ending is quite bittersweet but overall the journey this film brought me on was profound. It was an escape for eighty minutes to a moment which needed no language, words or conflict. It’s a moving canvass of surreal dreams, meditative resolve and old-fashioned cinema. To use two words I barely recognize in my vocabulary, The Red Turtle was a Sweet and somber experience.