THE RED TURTLE (La tortue rouge) [2016]

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Directed by Michael Dudok de Wit

Written by Michael Dudok de Wit (story), Pascale Ferran (screenplay)


The Red Turtle is a dialogue free, experimental film whose quality obviously banks heavily on its presentation; the animation and especially the soundtrack and sound effects work. As soon as the film starts, it is immediately apparent that all these boxes are successfully ticked as we are drawn deep into the dialogue-free experience that this film offers.

A collaboration between Studio Ghibli and Dutch director Michael Dudok de Wit, the story is at the same time rooted in reality while still retaining the dream-like aesthetic of so many of Ghibli’s great films. As soon as the film starts we are presented with some incredible hand-drawn animation, as well as some excellent sound design as we hear clearly heavy waves slapping together, throwing around a nameless man and what is left of his boat. It is an arresting introduction, and from then on, even without words, it is hard to look away.

The man finds himself on a deserted island, isolated from humanity. His only company are the crabs that inhabit the island. Multiple times the man tries to escape by building a raft, but his creation is mysteriously thumped from beneath and broken. On his third attempt, with this time with a stronger raft, he meets the perpetrator – a red turtle who is intent on keeping this man stranded on the island.

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The man is eventually forced to learn to be content with what he has. That is, he isn’t dead. He is stranded, but he is still breathing despite the storm than landed him on the island. This simple story is essentially all there is, but it is executed so well, and in such a unique but emotional style, that it is hard not to become fully involved in the film. When the Red Turtle surfaces on the island’s beach, one action by the man carries incredible emotional weight and really kicks the film into gear.

The lack of dialogue is replaced by dialogue continuously running through my head, creating an incredibly unique experience. The creativity on display, the distinct personality this film possesses, is partially due to the multicultural background of the film, having ties to many countries in Europe as well as Japan.

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It is perhaps slow at times, and without any dialogue I assume this will stump some viewers. But the way the film is able to evoke emotion without any dialogue is really quite the achievement. Pair this with some simply astounding animation, exceedingly effective sound-work and an in-obtrusive yet memorable soundtrack, and I find myself writing about yet another film that I can’t find a flaw with.

The story is certainly filled with symbolism and I imagine that may frustrate some viewers, but it isn’t too deep. The basic conclusion I came to was that this man has to learn to be content with being alive; he must learn to become at peace with nature, as it is the only company he has. I really cannot stop thinking about this film; no surprise then that it won the Un Certain Regard – Special Jury Prize at Cannes this year.

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It would be rude to reveal too much more about the story within the film, but it presents many questions worth pondering. What does the turtle signify? 5.5 beer - no beer topThat they live about as long as humans (approximately 80 years on average) surely has something to do with it, though I’d love to see the film again to analyse it again. The film offers much food for thought, if one is patient and is willing to explore the world the film creates. This is most certainly an anti-ADD film; I suspect even some ardent fans of Studio Ghibli may be less than excited about The Red Turtle. I however could not have enjoyed it more, it is certainly a film that lingers in the mind.

Half a beer short of a sixer

5.5/6