Describing this film without giving it away, it’s a hard task, but here it goes. This astonishing animation is the work of Dutch filmmaker Michaël Dudok De Wit, who has won several awards and an Oscar for best short film in 2001 for Father and Daughter (2000). The Red Turtle has also been praised internationally. This film won the Prix spécial du certain regard in the section Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival this year.
In The Red Turtle there is no dialogue. The only word that can be heard is ‘hey’. The story starts with a man stranding on an island. He tries to get out of this island, but in vain. Every time he attempts to escape, a red turtle seems to be in his way. This turtle will change his destiny.
Furthermore, The Red Turtle is Dudok De Wit’s first feature film (what a start!), and it is also the first foreign production of Studio Ghibli. Many will know this Japanese animation studio by films such as My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro, 1988), Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, 2001), and Howl’s Moving Castle (Hauru no Ugoku Shiro, 2004), among others.
In an interview with CineVille, Dudok De Wit revealed that Studio Ghibli contacted him in order to make a beautiful film with the characteristic sensitivity and feeling that he had shown in his short film. He certainly succeeded in doing so, because The Red Turtle reflects the dreamy features of Ghibli, and, at the same time, the film has his personal touch and delicateness concerned with the topics of family and love.
This animation film invites us to reflect on love, family relations, material things, our society, and lastly, on our environment. These topics have been touched by Studio Ghibli before and show us that there are many ways to explore them – with each story being unique. For instance, the issue on the environment is depicted in Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime, 1997) and My Neighbor Totoro. Very briefly, Princess Mononoke concerns the struggle between the inhabitants of the forests and the humans who destroy the forest in order to obtain its resources. In Totoro, the story reflects on the conservation and preservation of forests by presenting us Totoro ‘’keeper of the forest” and little Satsuki and Mei who learn to appreciate the magical forest where this huge fluffy spirit lives.
In short, The Red Turtle is a love story with no dialog, which makes it universal (everyone can understand it). It is the simple beautiful story that makes this film a wonderful watch. The Red Turtle can feel a little bit long, especially in the middle part, in which as a viewer you don’t know where this is going. However, as any other Ghibli film, The Red Turtle is an absolute delight to watch thanks to the animation quality and the film’s symbolic message. The appeal of The Red Turtle lies at the story, sensitivity, and its universal quality. For all the Ghibli fans out there, this is a must-watch!
Cover image: Screenshot The Red Turtle – looking at the horizon from once a strange place, now a place that feels like home.