Away

 

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A wonderful achievement in animation from an unexpected source.

 
Away II

 

The young Latvian filmmaker Gints Zilbalodis is truly a one-man band. This remarkable animated work is his first feature and his credits on it encompass director, producer, photographer, editor, art director and composer as well as that for the animation. It puts one in mind of other first features of this kind such as the Halas and Batchelor Animal Farm (1954) and the one from Aardman Animations (2000's Chicken Run). Like those works, Away, which was made over a three-year period, is patently a labour of love and also like them it is a triumph. That is all the more astonishing when you realise that Zilbalodis is only twenty-five years old.

 

If Animal Farm is an example of an animated film that can be appreciated by youngsters yet probably impresses adult viewers even more, Away can, I think, be put in the same category. Its Latvian origin and modest means might have created problems over subtitling or dubbing but the fact that the film relies entirely on imagery (no voice over and no dialogue) obviates that. At its centre is a boy on his own having parachuted from a plane before it crashes. Having set up this situation at the start, Away then depicts the boy's adventures - these shown in four chapters - as he seeks to cross the island on which he has landed. His aim is to reach its one coastal town and, as he passes through contrasted landscapes riding on a bike that he has found, his one companion is a bird while other animals, ranging from elephants to tortoises, make briefer appearances.

 

Certain details in Away remind one of a more sombre work, Lord of the Flies (that too had an island setting and its youngsters were survivors of a plane crash). If William Golding's novel was an allegory about the baseness of human nature, Away can be regarded as being a metaphor for the journey that we take through life. What the boy encounters en route sees him being confronted and challenged by an unsafe world to which he has to adjust. The depiction of his travels involves fantasticated elements, not least a monstrous towering figure which follows the boy day and night and is open to various interpretations (it could represent his own fears, or Death or the existence of evil).

 

Zilbalodis has a splendid eye for striking visuals and there is also an adroit use of sound (that relates to both his own music score and to natural sounds). Consequently, he has no difficulty in making us identify with the boy regardless of the fact that no details of his background emerge. The third chapter in the tale becomes more dreamlike in character but the only weakness comes late on when the monster figure seems to overpower the boy - at this point the failure to define precisely his nature and his powers leaves us confused and becomes a drawback. For that matter I would myself have liked the fantasy to have been given a practical explanation at the close as was done by Powell and Pressburger in their masterpiece A Matter of Life and Death (1946), But these are quibbles: as memorable in its way as that other animated feature without words, The Red Turtle (2016), Away is a wonderful example of what one young man can draw out of his own imagination.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Dir Gints Zilbalodis, Pro Gints Zilbalodis, Screenplay Gints Zilbalodis, Ph Gints Zilbalodis, Art Dir Gints Zilbalodis, Ed Gints Zilbalodis, Music Gints Zilbalodis, Animation Gints Zilbalodis.

 

Bilibaba-Munro Film Services.
75 mins. Latvia. 2019. Rel: 28 August 2020. Available in cinemas. Cert. U.