Friday, November 4, 2016

"The Red Turtle"

I've known Michael Dudok De Wit for about 20 years, since he first made "The Monk and the Fish", a beautiful animated short that revealed his massive illustrating talents - and when I saw his next film, the Oscar-winning short "Father and Daughter", I was convinced he was a genius.  And then I watched his next film, "The Aroma of Tea", an abstract short colored by tea residue.

Well, now he has a celebrated feature, "The Red Turtle", made in France but co-produced by Studio Ghibli (of Miyazaki fame).  People have been talking about this famed feature for years, and I finally got a chance to to see it on the big screen, as the opening night film at the ReAnimania Festival in Armenia. 

Right off the bat, it's a gorgeous film, a marvel of beauty.  Michael's film proves that 2-D (hand-drawn) animation can be just as visually awesome as any computer-generated film, and even more so.

However, I do have some comments on the story - it is some kind of allegory, but an allegory of what?  This guy gets stranded on an island and meets a red turtle that changes into a beautiful woman, then he has a child with the woman.  Eventually the woman and the child turn into turtles and leave the island. I suppose Michael's purpose was to make something mysterious, perhaps controversial, so people could argue the deeper meaning of "The Red Turtle".

The only conclusion I can come up with is that this Robinson Crusoe-like character took a turtle for a wife, had sex with her, and sired a young turtle.  I guess maybe I'm bad at understanding allegories...

Legend has it that long ago, sailors who were at sea for extended periods of time confused walruses and porpoises for women (mermaids).  I don't know if they had sex with them (perhaps) or sired little seal-people (hardly) but this could be the instigation of the turtle sex here.  In any case, I wonder if that's a strong enough answer to the mysterious riddle of "The Red Turtle".  But personally I prefer films that leave me satsified with the ending.  I usually like a story to resolve at the end.  I like life to have a definite meaning. 

The only other fault in the film is the damn picture of birds flying in the sky.  Michael did that a lot in "Father and Daughter" to great success, but I believe he got carried away with it in this feature.  The film is long for an animated feature, and I believe if he cut out a lot of the flying birds, it could lose 5 or 10 minutes. 

Still, I truly enjoyed the film and I believe it will become a classic.  I give "The Red Turtle" a B+.

--Bill Plympton

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