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The Red Turtle

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Some films are hard to describe in words because they are purely cinematic. Such is the case with The Red Turtle, a nationally complex production between France and Japan, directed by the British-Dutch Michael Dudok de Wit, and distributed by Studio Ghibli. The film’s folk tale-esque story of a shipwrecked man marooned on an island echoes the isolation and drama of All Is Lost, while the beautiful animation and spiritual resonance recalls Life Of Pi, but it lacks the narrative of either. Indeed, the narrative of the film is slim, following the exploits of this unnamed Man and the (very few) others that he encounters. There is no dialogue beyond shouts of ‘Hey!’ and no wraparound story to explain who, where and when the story involves, let alone why. What we are treated to instead are lush yet simple visuals, animation that carries a suffusive, dreamlike quality, and a plot with ambiguous events. On one level the film is about isolation and solitude, yet it also engages with family and connection. More broadly, it is concerned with humanity’s place within nature, best depicted when the Man encounters the eponymous reptile. Arguably, the film progresses through the five stages of grief, the Man exhibiting denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Beyond all of these potential meanings, however, what the film offers is that finest of cinematic experiences – transcendence. There is a strong sense throughout the film of something beyond, something to believe in, something to put hope and faith in; nothing so tangible as the divine or a higher purpose, but an abstract impression of having a place within a wider pattern. Perhaps the film’s strongest cinematic cousin, therefore, is the work of Terrence Malick, as like The Thin Red Line, The Tree of Life and To The Wonder, The Red Turtle is a sublime and transcendent experience, truly understood only by watching it.

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