Gorgeous colors and graceful poetic images mark The Red Turtle (La tortue rouge), a wordless 80-minute animated film co-produced by the famed Japanese Studio Ghibli and Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit. Made in France, the dialogue-free film was produced by Takahata Isao and co-written by French director Pascale Ferran whose 2014 film “Bird People” depicted a loving connection between man and nature. De Wit was recruited to the project by famed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki after he saw his 2000 Oscar-winning short “Father and Daughter,” a charcoal-drawn, also wordless film, about loss.
The Red Turtle begins in a raging storm as a bearded young man defies death and is carried by enormous waves to the shore of a tiny island as pieces of his shattered boat wash up behind him. With his only companions being crabs and caterpillars, the nameless man plans to escape by constructing a raft of bamboo sticks, but his raft is broken up during several attempts by a huge turtle of flaming red color. Aggressively attempting to prevent this from happening again, the man turns the turtle over, leaving it to die.
When the turtle transforms into a human female companion, the film becomes a beautiful and moving fable that recaptures the mystery and wonder of life. The Red Turtle is a short film, but it is filled with adventure as when the couple’s son tumbles into the same pool his father had almost drowned in several years earlier. There is also a raging tsunami that threatens to engulf the island, dream sequences including one in which the man imagines a string quartet playing classical music at low tide, and allegories about life, all supported by the exquisite score of composer Laurent Perez Del Mar (“Now or Never”).
While I did not always connect emotionally with the animated characters, I was awed by the grace of the film’s ballet-like underwater images, the glow of a magical sky, and the water, one minute a raging grey, the next a serene azure blue. Of course the central mystery of the film is open to interpretation. For me, it is an allegory about the power we all have to transform the quality of our life. Rather than being stuffed into a box labeled mythical fantasy or magical realism, The Red Turtle is about the true magic of reality so often lost to us by our present-day scientific “rationality.”