Set on a remote Pacific island, covered in rain forest and dominated by an active volcano, this heartfelt story, enacted by the Yakel tribe, tells of a sister's loyalty, a forbidden love affair and the pact between the old ways and the new.
The way this illuminating and ethereal film captures the senses makes you wish to linger in each frame; approaching rain the only sound, stars and moonlight reflected in the calm sea, the comforting and rhythmic wash of waves at night, the endless shades and patterns of color and sunlight in water and emotions conveyed in just a glance.
A lone man washes up on a remote and uninhabited island shore after a shipwreck. He is resourceful, works his way out of perilous situations and manages to find fresh water, fish and breadfruit to sustain him. He builds a sturdy raft and launches it in the sea, yet a large sea turtle breaks the raft apart. The turtle seems to want him to stay on the island. In a moment of rage, the man attacks the turtle and unwittingly sets in motion something more powerful than he can imagine.
The Red Turtle is wordless, yet not soundless. Nature speaks instead, in all its wonder apart from the noise of civilization. We hear, among other things, the movement of figures in the grass, the preternatural buzz of cicadas in the trees, a storm sweeping over the forest, waves tumbling in rhythm upon the shore, curious crabs turning over objects in their claws and wind rising and falling like emotions or breath.
The tremendous power of the Red Turtle is in its exquisite artistry and the emotions it conveys. The art is surreal and realistic at the same time. Every frame is so detailed, expressive and colorful that I a nature lover I admit broke down in awe and wonder. That the filmmakers shared this sentiment for the natural world is clear. The light on island greenery positively glows, there is play between sun and shadows, and clouds move resplendent in the twilight like they are stars in their own show.
Human emotion is conveyed with just as much ability as that of nature. People talk without speaking. They know the feelings of others, by their manner and the look in their eyes, in an instant. Because of the film's amazing artists, the audience doesn't need to hear words to know what is going on. The artwork conveys the contents of hearts. It is a much better way to communicate really. We feel the man's remorse for wanting to harm a turtle that wanted to help him. Someone reaches out their hand and we feel the touch on our cheeks. We move our feet with the dance beneath the sea.
Above all, the Red Turtle clearly renders our deep connection to nature and to each other. It does this so well it brings tears. We witness nature in all its wonder and power. As with Native American art, the film artistry allows the audience to glimpse and understand the lives of animals.
The Red Turtle was made in collaboration with Studio Ghibli. The director maintained after the showing that Studio Ghibli placed enough trust in him that he had space and freedom to operate, yet also could turn to them for advice when needed. The director/studio partnership certainly found the right balance. North American premiere seen at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.
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