A Film a Week - The Red Turtle / La tortue rouge

Since its premiere in Un Certain Regard selection of last year’s Cannes Film Festival, The Red Turtle has reached universal critical acclaim, lots of awards and an Oscar nomination for the best animated feature. It is a rare example of a film that is perfectly translatable from one cultural context to another and that is resonating the same with children and grown-ups among the audience, being at the same time completely universal and highly original work of art. There is no need to copy an existing, Disney-style formula. The Red Turtle simply works from the beginning to the very end.

Directed by Michael Dudok de Wit (known for his Oscar-winning animated short Father and Daughter), co-written by the director and French veteran Pascal Ferran and produced by Wild Bunch and Ghibli, The Red Turtle hand-picks the best traits of European (namely, French and Belgian) and Japanese animation tradition. Technically, it is pure old-school, 2D, hand-drawn and simply beautiful. There is no dialogue (the most characters say is “Hey”) and the narrative is very simple, but the feeling is lyrical and emotional, thanks to wonderful drawings and sometimes too obvious harmony choices in the score by Laurent Perez Del Mar, and the underlining point is both eco-friendly, radically humane and somewhat existentialist.

The basic story revolves around a Robinson Crusoe-like outcast on a tropical island and his search for shelter, water, food and the means of escape. His first two attempts to leave the island on a raft made of bamboo wood are thwarted by an unknown force of nature. For the the third time, the force preventing him to leave reveals itself in the form of a gigantic titular reptile.

Later that night, the turtle follows him to the shore and he smacks it with a piece of wood, apparently killing it. His feeling of guilt emerges after the turtle transforms into a beautiful, readheaded woman... Two of them get to know each other, fall in love, form a family and stay on the island for better or worse even when their child leaves.

The idea behind is the story of responsibility to the nature and the acceptance of life in whichever form it comes. The lack of dialogue (and even narration) may seem like a cheap trick to secure both global marketability and artsy chic, but it is not the case here, because the focus is on emotions, contemplating on the matters of nature and life and finding inner peace within ourselves and our surroundings.

The simple narrative is completelly suitable for children, but the problem occurs with its deliberate pace and emotional complexity that can prove to be too much for that type of audience. Still, the beauty of the animation and vivid playing with magical realism are gripping. Considerable educational value regarding the humanism and eco-conciousness in the film’s core is also a plus, which makes The Red Turtle a beautiful experience to be shared between the grown-ups and their children.

The film takes us into its world with its emotional strenght and leaves us breathless. Even the lapses of logic and occasionally heavy-handed symbolism is not that much of a problem. The Red Turtle is the film not seen before, animated or otherwise.

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