The Red Turtle

THE RED TURTLE, an­i­ma­tion, Vi­o­let Crown, 4 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

A soli­tary man, with­out a lifeboat, is be­ing swept away amidst the chaos of moun­tain­ous rolling waves. He washes up on the shore of a desert is­land and spends his early days and weeks there at­tempt­ing to build a bam­boo raft to take him away. These ef­forts are thwarted in part by a red turtle. Out of anger and frus­tra­tion, he pun­ishes the turtle by flip­ping it up­side down and let­ting it slowly de­hy­drate in the sun. He soon re­al­izes the cru­elty of this act; flush with re­gret, he helps to re­vive the beast with wa­ter and shel­ter. One night, the turtle trans­forms into a wo­man, and a re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two blossoms. The man pushes his raft out to sea and lets it drift out to the hori­zon, ac­cept­ing the fact that the is­land is his home.

This an­i­mated film from Dutch film­maker Michaël Du­dok de Wit, nom­i­nated for an Os­car and made in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ja­pan’s Stu­dio Ghi­bli, is scarcely ex­pe­ri­enced as a film at all. It un­furls like a fa­ble or a dream, show­ing us the rel­a­tively mun­dane lives that the man and the wo­man cre­ate for them­selves on the is­land — gath­er­ing food, rais­ing a child, grow­ing older. If it had been an an­i­mated short, this might have felt long — a beau­ti­ful, if te­dious, ex­er­cise. As a fea­ture film, with the time to al­low us to set­tle into its world, it goes by in the blink of an eye.

The man and wo­man aren’t alone here, as Ghi­bli’s sig­na­ture at­ten­tion to nat­u­ral de­tail emerges in the wildlife; skit­ter­ing crabs and ma­jes­tic tur­tles are among the film’s main char­ac­ters, and the is­land is fur­ther pop­u­lated by seag­ulls, pol­li­wogs, and mil­li­pedes. Du­dok de Wit en­dows his hu­mans with the Euro­pean ex­pres­sive­ness of an Ad­ven­tures of Tintin comic and im­bues their move­ment with weight and life. He rarely uses close-ups; we al­most al­ways see the main char­ac­ters’ bod­ies in full, of­ten­times seem­ing barely sig­nif­i­cant against a vast seas­cape.

Al­most all of the ac­tion takes place across three en­vi­ron­ments: blue wa­ter, a sandy beach, and a lush bam­boo for­est, all of which get washed over in a char­coal grey for night­time scenes and dream se­quences. Du­dok de Wit plays these en­vi­ron­ments like three chords in a long bal­lad, bring­ing view­ers from one place to the next and back again in a pa­tient tempo. From these sim­ple in­gre­di­ents, the film shows us life as we all live it — how it’s about your en­vi­ron­ment, your rou­tines, and the peo­ple you spend time with — and then it’s done. It’s such an ex­traor­di­nary moviego­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that you barely no­tice that there isn’t a sin­gle line of di­a­logue. — Robert Ker

Wa­tery trans­for­ma­tion

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