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 on 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