Review: “The Red Turtle”

Posted by Michael Parsons on January 26, 2017 in / No Comments


Dutch/Japanese animated feature “The Red Turtle” is the first feature-length work of Michael Dudok de Wit, whose hand drawn production contains exactly the kind of fluidity and naturalism that modern-day CGI lacks. I love my Pixar and my Dreamworks, but this collaboration of Wild Bunch and Studio Ghibli (“The Wind Rises”) reminds that there is a place for old school technique. This minimalist fable  finds a man washing up on a deserted island after being tossed about by a storm, sharing a small sandy paradise with ghost crabs and other such critters. Pi had his lion and Tom Hanks had Wilson, and this castaway has his giant red turtle, which keeps thwarting the man’s attempt to get off the island. This is a beautiful vision, this giant swimming creature.

Without a word of  dialogue, the film ebbs and flows in and out of reality (there probably aren’t violinists on the beach) as the man’s efforts prove futile and an act of revenge against his flippered foe  results in immediate remorse and an attempt at redemption. The appearance of a young woman might be cosmic or karmic, but like a poem, this is the kind of thing that thrives Unknownon the obscurity in which it dwells, never suggesting that it’s going to be wrapped on some sort of logical bow.

At times, as if frozen in a dream, “The Red Turtle” (La tortue rouge) perhaps aims to provide perspective on a massive cyclical level, whether it be through regeneration or reincarnation, but the real beauty of Dudok de Wit’s film is that it doesn’t really matter much how you take it. After that shell cracks open and a human woman emerges like a mermaid, apprehensive of the man but not overtly frightened, Dudok de Wit’s film could’ve easily concluded, a short animated flick with a wham-bang metaphor(s).

But “The Red Turtle” forges on through a devastating tsunami, and introduces more characters of the same very basic yet very lifelike animation style that broaden the spectrum of the tale well beyond what one might expect. This picture is better without a dissertation on  film theory foisted upon  you—elaborating will only detract from its essence—but I will say that it’s pretty dense if you’re measuring by the amount of thought that it will provoke. “The Red Turtle” will get the synapses firing, but at the same time it’s the perfect length to view during a Bikram Yoga class.

Select Cities, in Washington, DC January 27th

—M. Parsons 2017

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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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