In this mainstream led world, the animation field is dominated by companies like Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks and so on. Since the inclusion of the best-animated Academy Award category, when the gold was finally given out, one of these major films would be the obvious winner. For some of the smaller films, just the clout of being included with these other movies was enough to boost its profile. I feel like this is the case this year as, of the five nominees, two are Disney films, one is from the underappreciated Laika and we have one French and Swiss collaboration and, the focus of this review, The Red Turtle, a meeting of the minds between France, Belgium and Japan under the production tags of Wild Bunch and the legendary Studio Ghibli.
A film without any dialogue, The Red Turtle opens with a man shipwrecked in the middle of the ocean. Swimming his way to a nearby island, the man searches the island and navigates his terrain. Taking inventory of what food he can gather and what materials he has, the man sets up to construct a raft to get him off the island and back to civilization. The constant issue is, as soon as he gets out into the ocean, an unseen force destroys his means of escape, sending him back to shore. After a few incidents, the man investigates to find that a large red turtle is pecking at the boat from underneath, impeding his plan. Finally, at his breaking point, the man snaps and attacks the turtle, leaving it for dead but the next morning feels remorse for what he’s done. In attempting to revive the large animal, it makes a transformation that will change his life and give it a beautiful new direction.
Seeing this film at the Vancouver International Film Festival, I was absolutely captivated immediately. The film operates almost hypnotically through the first act, as we the viewer also explore this new world that the nameless man is forced to live in. With the sound of nature on a backdrop of crashing waves, the filmmakers immerse us so deeply in this man’s life that, even without a single word spoken, we are sympathetic to his story immediately. I feel like this is such an impressive feat, given how simplistic the story appears to be at first.
Without giving away the deepening story to The Red Turtle, I will say the emotional waves this movie created made it hard for me to keep the tears back, For being such a simple premise, this movie plays the heartstrings with such an ease that it is really astounding. Even with a really short running time of an hour and twenty minutes, the journey that you go on with this wordless and nameless human being is unforgettable and will stick in your mind. With a name like Studio Ghibli behind it, there will we eyes who know and love this company behind it but those who are only fleetingly familiar, like me, with eat this one up simply for the sheer amount of heart and soul it embodies. My hope is that more people will give this very unorthodox film a fighting chance because it most certainly won’t win an Oscar, much to my dismay. 5/5