The Red Turtle




Great animation bestowed on a storyline that raises questions.

Red Turtle, The


The Dutch filmmaker Michael Dudok de Wit won the backing of Studio Ghibli for this, his first feature following a series of successful animated shorts. The resulting film can only be described as wondrous. Visually, this wordless work is a masterpiece and that's quite enough to justify a strong recommendation even if the story - Dudok de Wit's own, co-written with Pascale Ferran - is structured in a way that is disconcerting.


The opening section of The Red Turtle is a knockout. Without any preliminaries, it shows a shipwrecked man       who is washed ashore on a deserted island. There is no music at this stage and the drawing is so vivid, the composition and light of each shot so compelling, that The Red Turtle comes across as a tale in the Robinson Crusoe tradition that seems more real than if it had been told with actors. The man's repeated attempts to get away by constructing a raft render him a hero, and we are intrigued by the initially unseen attacker that thwarts his escape bids. When it is seen it proves to be a red turtle bringing bold colour into a world which is largely depicted in subdued hues.


So far, so great and, bearing in mind the wisdom that critics should not disclose unexpected plot developments, I will not say too much about exactly what happens thereafter (at this point we are about a quarter of the way through a film lasting some 81 minutes). However, what I can say is that, without any preparation for it, we are faced by a transformation scene which suggests that the tale will not after all be the realistic work that it has been so far but quite possibly an allegory, perhaps something akin to a fairy tale that will be used to deliver a moral message. Yet that, too, proves to be just a phase.


What eventually emerges here is a story which, unexpectedly in view of what has gone before, takes on a character not far removed from Tomm Moore's Song of the Sea (2014). The important distinction between them is that from early on Moore made it clear that he was embracing Celtic legend and telling a story about a selkie. Since in that case we knew where we stood, we could enter fully into the spirit of the piece and feel the emotion. Here we are asking questions for too long for the piece to have any equivalent effect. But the fact remains that as an example of animation in cinema The Red Turtle is absolutely outstanding, and that is enough to make it a film that nobody keen on films of this kind should miss.




Dir Michael Dudok de Wit, Pro Toshio Suzuki, Vincent Maraval, Pascal Caucheteux, Grégoire Sorlat and Léon Perahia, Screenplay Michael Dudok de Wit with Pascale Ferran, Ed Céline Kélépikis, Music Laurent Perez del Mar.


Why Not Productions/Wild Bunch/Studio Ghibli/CN4 Productions/Arte France Cinéma/Belvision-StudioCanal.
81 mins. France/Belgium/Japan/Poland/Netherlands/Hungary/UK/Germany/China/Italy/USA. 2016. Rel: 26 May 2017. Cert. PG.