What to call this movie? A fable, a circle-of-life story, a hallucination, a dream?
Whatever you call it, it’s a nice bit of filmmaking.
As it opens, a man struggles in a stormy sea after his boat has capsized and then broken apart. He awakens later on a beach and finds himself alone on a tropical island.
The island is beautiful, but the man naturally wishes to return to the home he left. He builds rafts with leafy sails, several times, but each one is rammed and breaks up shortly after launch. When a beautiful young woman arrives to join him on the island, the man decides to stay.
What follows is their Edenic life together and the arrival of their son. In his own way, the boy repeats his father’s experiences. He encounters groups of scrabbling crabs, survives a steep fall into a watery chasm and dreams of vivid unrealities.
The only sounds in the film are those of animals, sea waves and human grunts of frustration or search. There is no manufactured conflict, only the efforts to survive in a mostly benign setting. The turtle of the title sets the whole story in motion in a magical way.
If this sounds like a simple story, it is. The movie almost certainly was made with children in mind, but it is deeply stirring on a human level and rewarding for adult viewers as well.
Our animation studios (Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks) turn out great stuff, but they rarely adopt a less-is-more approach. American children’s lives are enriched by the antics of Bugs Bunny and Buzz Lightyear, but also by myths and fairy tales. This film falls in the latter category.
“The Red Turtle” was made in France in collaboration with Studio Ghibli, the renowned Japanese anime house. You should see it if it is showing near your town, but don’t get your hopes up: The movie was available on only 36 screens nationwide last weekend.
The Ghibli vault includes many fine films, but to my knowledge they are not offered by domestic screening services. Your best chance to watch “The Red Turtle” probably will be after it is released on Blu-ray.