The Red Turtle
5th October 2016 6.40pm at BFI Southbank
6th October 2016 2.15pm at Odeon Leicester Square
There’s a minimalist charm to Michael Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle. With almost no dialogue, and with only a bare-bones storybook narrative to keep it running, it is a film in which the images are empowered, and where tiny moments and decisions take on an almost mythic resonance.
During a storm, a man finds himself shipwrecked on an island. After finding food and water, he builds a raft and tries to escape. But mid-journey, the raft is sunk by an unseen threat. This happens again, and again, whereupon the man sees that a large red turtle is responsible. He vows revenge, and attacks the turtle when it comes to shore; no sooner does he regret his outburst than the turtle transforms into a woman. The man forgets about escape and decides to establish a family on the island.
While The Red Turtle sounds dull on paper, it’s the expressive and nuanced animation that lends the film its charm. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Studio Ghibli is a co-producer here, or that Isao Takahata himself serves as animation director. One of the studio’s greatest strengths was its ability to characterise through the smallest of details: we learn all we need to know about de Wit’s characters through the way they climb a tree, or swim, or sleep at night, whether they stare up at the stars or wrap an arm around their loved ones. It’s far removed from the classic Ghibli style – a mix of de Witt’s charcoal aesthetic and some CGI – but the spirit remains intact. In constructing the ecosystem of the island, for instance, it is imperative that the movement of crabs, or the flow of water into a glass jug, are realistic: while simplified, we come to believe that the island is a beautiful and real place, capable of genuine magic.
The story is quiet, and more than a little mysterious, but it adheres faithfully to the rhythms of life. The man’s frenzied attempts to escape, and his shame over his violence towards the turtle, abate with age, as he comes to love his family. There is a devastating sequence where a huge wave washes over the island; the family recover their losses and rebuild. The film has the logic of a fable, with intelligence and imagination buried beneath its simplicity. It will delight adults and children alike.
The Red Turtle does not have a UK release date yet.
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