The Red Turtle
"Some of the art is truly breathtaking, especially the star-filled skies, and the movement of the various animals we meet is beautifully observed."

Life at sea can be a lonely business, so perhaps it's not surprising that fishing communities all around the world have evolved similar stories of otherworldly women who emerge from its depths, whether as friends or foes. Scotland has its selkies, Greece its sirens, New Zealand its marakihau. It's not clear quite were the stranded sailor in this film has washed up, but for him the sea spirit takes the form of a turtle; and whether dream or reality, she changes his whole perspective on life.

A simple tale told through deceptively simple art, and almost without words, The Red Turtle was nominated for an Oscar and took home the Special Jury Prize from Cannes in 2016, both well deserved accolades. It follows the sailor from a terrifying opening in which he's battered about by ocean waves in a storm to his arrival on an island built of sand, rocks and bamboo, through his early attempts to escape and his change of heart when he finds himself in company, then for many years thereafter. Dutch artist Michael Dudok de Wit worked with Japan's legendary Studio Ghibli to bring the fable to life, and it's as beautiful as fans of either would expect, spare of line and delicate of hue but tremendously evocative, inviting the imagination to fill in what is not shown, inviting the heart to fill in what is not said.

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Sustaining a narrative like this for 80 minutes in no mean feat, but at no point does the film feel overextended. There are action scenes and some pretty scary moments which mean that although it's theoretically suitable for all ages, parents may want to talk through it with younger children afterwards. Some of the art is truly breathtaking, especially the star-filled skies, and the movement of the various animals we meet is beautifully observed. There is great attention to detail and it really pays off.

With only occasional music, the film takes its sounds from nature. We sense isolation not simply by climbing a rock and looking down at the island, but through the fury of the storms that assail it, compared to which everything feels tiny. Dudok de Wit excels in capturing the moods of the sea, from a smooth sheet of sapphire blue to a feroicious tumult of leaping waves that threaten to crush everything before them. Only the turtles seem unconcerned, drifting through life as if pursuing some greater, secret purpose.

The Red Turtle is perhaps too serene, overall, to capture the mood of many modern filmgoers, but it has a grace and poetry about it which, together with its charming animation, are bound to win it a dedicated legion of fans.

Reviewed on: 24 Sep 2017
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The life of a castaway on a desert island.
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Director: Michael Dudok de Wit

Writer: Michael Dudok de Wit, Pascale Ferran

Starring: Emmanuel Garijo, Tom Hudson, Baptiste Goy

Year: 2016

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: France, Japan

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