To tell too much of the plot (minimal as it is) of Michael Dudok de Wit’s hauntingly beautiful fable is to deny you the delight of discovery. The Red Turtle is not a movie to tentatively dip one’s toe into, full immersion is required, allow the gentle waves of the story to close over you and just drift with its gentle currents of loneliness, companionship and love.
The film opens in the midst of a monstrous storm at sea, a lone figure battles to stay afloat as the grey waves threaten to overwhelm and drown him. He is washed upon the shore of a small island and with the help of its prodigious bamboo forest he fashions a raft as a means of escape. But something repeatedly sabotages his efforts, something doesn’t want him to leave.
But this is a force far from sinister, rather the reason he is denied his escape is love. There are echoes of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid woven deeply within The Red Turtle’s gentle and aching narrative, it feels like a story that has always been with us whilst it delights in being utterly unfamiliar.
Beautifully animated in the “Ligne Claire” style made famous by European icons such as Herge and Jean (Moebius) Giraud and with glorious small nods to co-production partner Studio Ghibli (especially the little beach crabs that recall Miyazaki’s shoo-puffs and soot sprites), The Red Turtle is a visual delight, a sensual feast for the eyes and the mind. Freed from the constraints of dialogue (the film is all but silent, save for the sounds of nature and environment) the film is allowed to explore multiple themes: love, companionship and nature’s essential cycle to name but three.
The Red Turtle is a film I’ll return to again and again, its zen-like simplicity contains multitudes and its spare beauty lifts the soul.