NZIFF ’16/11 – THE RED TURTLE

the-red-turtle-studio-ghibli

2016; directed by Michael Dudok de Wit; written by Michael Dudok de Wit and Pascale Ferran; 80 mins

If it’s all the same with you, even though there is a plot ‘development’ on the poster, I’d rather not give away any spoilers for this so, here’s the trailer, let’s move on with our lives!

In this first international co-production from Studio Ghibli, an unnamed man, lost at sea in a storm and separated from his boat, washes up on the shore of a desert island and after finding food and water for himself, he sets about building a raft to try and escape. Before he gets even half a mile away, though, the raft is suddenly destroyed by some unseen force and the man is forced back to shore. He tries again to escape on a second, bigger, sturdier raft but that too is destroyed by what turns out to be the enormous titular reptile.

That’s as far as seems proper to reveal the plot and although it’s not a twisty thriller, you never quite know where it’s going and it has a few surprises so I’ll leave it at that. It’s not based on a pre-existing story but it feels very much like an ancient tale or one of Aesop‘s lesser known fables. Dudok De Wit has stated that it’s not based on any one story but he grew up with a love of folk and fairy tales. It’s interesting, also, that the time in which this film is set is deliberately very vague. The appearance of certain flotsam and jetsam suggest it’s anytime in the last 500 years, could be today. When it’s set is not really the point, I suppose. It’s a story about a man stripped of any and all civilising tools, which means it becomes very much a bare bones story of man v nature and so opened to your own interpretation.

For me, it seemed that all of nature, the animals, the birds, the fish and the insects knew their place and would carry on with their life on the island regardless of what the man was up to. He is a curio to them but on his own, not important enough to worry about. The appearance of the Red Turtle, seemed to herald a natural controlling force, a guardian or harbinger of some kind, dictating the man’s path. The earlier scenes are fantastic and there is some really great stuff in there. It’s a gorgeous looking film and the sound design is immaculate, particularly in the early scenes, when the man is exploring the island. Sounds are used really cleverly to make him and the audience hear what they want to hear.

After that, spoilers! But I got lost anyway. That’s not a criticism of the film, however, because the film clearly knows full well what it’s doing and I lost track but interest started to wane anyway in the second half. It’s definitely too self-serious in places (although, the chorus of local crabs is a nice little gag) and a case where the less-is-more adage falls down. This is being billed as a silent film and it pretty much is: the dialogue amounts to one word being said about four or five times in 80 minutes. That’s a helluva stretch and the silence works perfectly at first but it becomes contrived later on and there are moments when you just wish there could be some dialogue, at least, to help invest us more in the story.

By the end, I wasn’t so interested, though. Maybe the brain was exhausted so soon after Chimes at Midnight but even though it has it’s heart in the right place, I wouldn’t really be surprised if it turns out that the message of the film was something irksomely pompous.

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