This one I recommend.

This one I recommend.

I like turtles.

I like turtles (…sorry).

Michaël Dudok de Wit is known for his ravishing animated short films that can be minimalistic in dialogue, and sometimes even content, yet still recognizable in terms of what sort of stories they tell and which parts of the human experience they depict. The Red Turtle (presented by Studio Ghibli, no less) is his first feature-length film and a tale of man falling in love with nature – in more ways than one.

The protagonist desperately looks for a solution.

The protagonist desperately looks for a solution.

As it starts out, it seems like we’re in for something along the lines of Life of Pi, with a bit of Cast Away on the side. A man who barely speaks (and even when he does it may as well be in any human language) is shipwrecked and ends up trapped on a desert islands where only turtles, birds and crustaceans roam.

He quickly realizes that he needs to find a way off the island, in spite of how remarkably non-hostile it is (there are no polar bears or hidden laboratories to speak of, for one thing), and begins to construct a raft out of whatever materials he can find. However, his attempts to sail away from the island keep getting thwarted by something in the water that wrecks his vessel and forces him to swim back to shore. After his third (or so) attempt, he finds out that the culprit is an enormous red turtle. As it crawls ashore the following evening, the man snaps and tortures it, leaving it to die on the beach.

It is at this point that the film does something completely different and stops being a Robinsonade. A similar film from 2013, called All is Lost, told the universal tale of man vs. the elements through a minimal use of dialogue and characters, whereas this one unexpectedly opts for a more optimistic and, dare I say, romantic version of man’s relationship with the elements. I don’t want to give it away, even if plenty of other reviewers have done just that already. Simon Abrams of RogerEbert.com gave more details on what happens in The Red Turtle, insisting only afterwards that it wasn’t a spoiler, though I was frankly a bit pissed either way as I was reading his review before having seen the film.

red-guy-cow-chicken-also-turtle

The Red Turtle was somewhat underwhelming in some areas but outright awe-inspiring in others. The imagery and the music (Laurent Perez del Mar) are stunningly beautiful, and there are moments during the film’s early parts that are genuinely horrifying and claustrophobic, due in no miniscule part to how real everything feels.

In the animation department, it is next to flawless. It lacks some of the details of our world, but is still so lifelike in its movement and lighting that it might as well be. Nearly every frame of this film could be framed and hung on the living room wall of any truly classy home, and it saddens me that an effort like this will undoubtedly lose its Best Animated Feature Oscar to the latest Disney outing (Zootopia is an admittedly gorgeous film but not as clever or deep as it’d like to fancy itself; Moana I have no opinion on).

My biggest gripe with the film was probably the lack of a truly engaging plot during the latter third. Since it isn’t telling that kind of story, maybe it’s appropriate, yet I couldn’t help but feel like I could have learned even more from it if there was some sort of escalating drama and we didn’t just see a man more or less give up on his desperate quest to find his way home. When the main character meets the turtle for the first time, that’s where it stops being that kind of story. We do get something unique and thought-inspiring; it’s just that we could have gotten even more.

Granted, I don’t know how many lessons this story is intended to teach us. I’m pretty sure that we’re not supposed to take with us that the smartest thing to do after getting shipwrecked is let ourselves get embraced by Mother Nature, being as nature in real life is kind of unmerciful and doesn’t hand out the man-made materials that allowed man to get where he is, let alone survive – including but not limited to medicine and properly cooked food. But then, I suppose it depends on how you interpret it.

Down below is the trailer and my final rating. It’s that time of the year, dear readers, so stay tuned for more Oscar-themed reviews in the coming weeks. I’ve already got a feeling Manchester by the Sea will be a retroactive addition to by Best Films of 2016 list.

4/5 whatever

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