Director: Michaël Dudok de Wit
Screenplay: Michaël Dudok de Wit, Pascale Ferran
Runtime: 80 Minutes
Animation has been having a moment over the past decade, whereby major and minor studios have to varying degrees of success been experimenting with narrative applied to different audiences and cultures in mind. On the fringes of the mainstream circuit something has been brewing, be it in the wake of Studio Ghibli’s halt in production, the resurgence of Disney animation or the rise of Laika, but The Red Turtle is an oddity to be advocated for its ambitious strengths and restraint.
All but abandoning dialogue, this near-silent work of a castaway stranded on an island comes to us as a rare co-production from Studio Ghibli. Employing the brush stroke and watercolour imagery of director Michaël Dudok de Wit, his first feature film thrives on the meditative exploration into the relationships between man, nature and each other as we follow his initial struggle to get back home – before finding something more that has emerged from the wastes of his desolation.
It’s a film that relies on the wonder of its storytelling, and as such to elaborate more on the relationship that is formed between the man and the Red Turtle of the title might elevate the weight is its slow-burning strength and power. The animation style approaches that of the still images of a storybook in motion, relying almost entirely on the use of crosscutting between frames and imagery evoke meaning and purpose, and never once striving to explain itself in an oversimplified way. The frames and movements of the characters, their dramatic struggles at the hands of Mother Nature and the personal conflicts that they face are left to the audience to decipher with subtlety and poise.
Michaël Dudok de Wit’s short films trust in picturesque narratives, ranging from the decipherable to the abstract as a means of captivation, and to fall under the spell of its motions and gestures. This is an elaborate and bold work to look at, and yet the sound design is what immerses you into its world with organic taps and sounds, and the breathing of its characters to give them a real physicality – while holding onto the calm of its atmosphere.
Life and death coexist as a single presence that is accepted by the balance of the universe, as the food chain is observed in motion and without comment. How life ticks on around us regardless of circumstance, and how we must change to survive and find something blossoming, compassionate, new and intangible are thoughts that dwell on the mind of this feature. Though these are not wholly original sentiments or ideas, it’s how The Red Turtle presents them through the glaring eyes of its protagonist, its dreamlike visuals and changes of texture that make them work here.