Strong and silent in equal measure, Studio Ghibli/Wild Bunch’s co-production The Red Turtle, notably devoid of dialogue, masterfully fills its moments with movement and an eclectic mix of sound you wouldn’t normally hear, setting a new milestone for the already much-beloved filmmakers.

Stranded on an island and struggling to survive, the isolated outlook’s lone inhabitant, trying to escape, encounters a large, belligerent red turtle, oh so much more than it appears. With Studio Ghibli’s trademark fantasticality on display, The Red Turtle is reliably overflowing with the imaginative creativity these animators are so well known for, packing a number of surprises, the less said about which, the better.

Without voice and at the mercy of nature, the film is witness to terrifying displays of sound wholly divorced from dialogue or typical filmic expression, boasting encroaching walls of water and moments of unbridled destruction amongst its best scenes, too featuring the deceptively diverse hubbub of numerous creatures including crabs and gulls.

Forced to rely on action and movement to tell the story, an early scene involving a cliff-face is one of the film’s most breathless, amplifying throughout the filmmakers’ consummate ability to wordlessly express universal emotions, thrillingly seen to even more resounding effect in a throwback to the cliff sequence later in the film. Emotions and thoughts communicated for the most part are evident in their nature, the lack of dialogue proving never tiring and consistently intriguing.

The use of colour being amongst the film’s best innovations, the night scenes, typically privy to The Red Turtle’s most visually entrancing and fantasy-orientated junctures, are depicted in numerous shades of grey and enveloping darkness, inviting the audience into the film’s dream-like world in a way that very few animators can.

Not a great deal happens in The Red Turtle. The story is painted in very simple, broad strokes – the film itself, compounded by its short run time, rendered with a passing, fleeting quality which doesn’t require you to rest on its limited machinations and ideas or ponder its compelling if heavily foreshadowed ending, asking only for an instinctual, emotive reaction to its visual eminence and heartfelt core.

Pure escapism, The Red Turtle, like a fine, swirly painting you kind of recognise but don’t always get, asks you to stop and stare at it for a little while before moving on. Take the time; as with Studio Ghibli’s other output, it’s worth it.


The Red Turtle is screening at the Sydney Film Festival on Saturday 18 June – for tickets head to the Festival website

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