I first saw the trailer for Michael Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle at an Art House Theatre I frequent. There was no dialogue spoken, but it didn’t need it to sell me on seeing the film. The art was simplistically beautiful. The music, which I hoped was actually from the film, was stunning. The premise, well outside of a man being trapped on a deserted island, I wasn’t too sure on. To be honest I didn’t even need one. I was already sold on seeing this movie. The trailer is included below. However, if you need a little more to go on, the film is also produced by Studio Ghibli. And with that, I know you are all in.
Now, before we get too ahead of ourselves. I have to issue a warning of SPOILERS. It is difficult to review this particular film without ruining a key element of the plot. I also want to state that the film is, in fact, a fantasy and worthy of being on a site such as the Sci-Fi Movie Page.
We are given very little backstory as to why the Man (Emmanuel Garijo) has become shipwrecked. His need to escape and rejoin civilization would be the same as anyone else’s. What we do see is his determination. He constantly constructs new rafts over and over again only to have each one destroyed as he gets underway. Before the “what” is revealed, we are stuck in the fantasy of the survivalist. What would we do, how would we build our raft, and how would we defend it? When we do in fact see that the Man is being kept on the island by a giant Red Turtle, the survivalist fantasy (the type of film you thought this was) is gone. Instead what we have is a beautiful and touching story about love.
In the Man’s anger with the Red Turtle essentially dooming him, he takes full advantage of the creature when it gets washed ashore and kills it. Having remorse about what he has done, the man falls into a deep sorrow and spends day and night with the mighty, lifeless beast. The story changes when he awakes to find a red haired Woman (Barbara Beretta) inside the large shell where the Red Turtle used to be. The Man builds her a shelter and brings her fresh water, all in the hopes that she will awaken. One morning he finds the woman awake and swimming and leaves her the shirt on his back. Thus, the story of the Red Turtle takes the turn into its second act.
We, the audience, aren’t without questions; questions that we are left to answer on our own. Why? Because, the writer and director give you only the story of the Man and the Woman, who go onto to thrive on their private island and raise a child of their own for the next part of the story. Is the Woman the Red Turtle? Is she an elemental creature? Perhaps a spirit animal? Whichever it is, it really won’t matter as the love story of this family takes over as the Child grows into manhood. We do see the boy as being more one with nature than his parents (at least his father). However, as the film progresses we accept his destiny, as his parents do, that he might find his own place in the greater world.
The animation is fantastic, which is something we have to expect with films that share the Studio Ghibli moniker. Director Michael Dudok de Wit plays with colors in a way that is very different from animation and film in general. He paints the night in blacks, grays, and whites over a blue overtone. When the sun appears on the horizon, he bathes the characters and the island in its glow. The artistic visuals heighten your experience and make you one with the characters. I promise you that it will be a long time before you see a film use this technique with colors again, animated or live action.
The Red Turtle was given the honor of a nomination for “Best Animated Feature Film of the Year” in 2016 by the Academy Awards. It would lose to Walt Disney’s Zootopia. Having seen both films, one being a magical journey about what it means to be one with nature and the other being an animated version of the film 48 Hours (1982), I can honestly say The Red Turtle was robbed. This is probably a case where not enough people saw The Red Turtle. The film was released by Sony Pictures Classics, so that alone is reason enough for no one having seen it. Sony really didn’t have a great year, financially, nor do they market their films very well. That being said, I cannot recommend this masterpiece enough. It is for both the young and old as well as the lovers of animation and film. This is the purest form of cinema. Not only will it dazzle you with its story, but it will move you its visuals.
· The Birth of The Red Turtle
· The Secrets of The Red Turtle
· AFI Fest Q&A with Director Michael Dudok de Wi