Unfurling unencumbered by dialogue, the man’s journey from lost and lonely soul to a place of acceptance and growth is both physically thrilling and metaphysically rich. De Wit doesn’t skimp on visceral spectacle – the opening storm is chilling and all-consuming, a later hurricane is sublime in its cleansing fury, and a sequence that sees the man trying to survive a fall into a deep crevice is a master class in visual economy and heart-in-mouth horror. The curious crustaceans dogging his steps bring a touch of levity that will appeal to younger viewers though, while the rich palate and man vs nature scenes of adventure suggest family-wide appeal, The Red Turtle’s defiantly philosophical preoccupations and gentle rhythms will best reward the more patient and thoughtful young cineaste.
The ostensibly simple animation style – as close to hand-drawn as dammit – is perfect for a film wrestling with themes as old as humanity itself, and The Red Turtle feels like it could be ripped from a long-forgotten children’s picture book, or a discovered as a charcoal rendering in a dusty corner of a municipal museum. Fear, hope, despair, triumph, loss and redemption play themselves out on this magical island in a film that is both wise and reserved, swerving away from easy answers and cloying emotion and mining instead for ambiguity, empathy, and a sense of amazement at life’s rich and strange tapestry. The Red Turtle’s most ravishing scenes – a dreamy starlit beach chase, an impossible wave-walk, the red turtle’s ambiguous resurrection – are infused with a powerful magic realism that aims straight for the heart and gut, and rarely misses.
The Red Turtle is one of the most beautiful, compassionate, emotionally draining films of the year, with images and themes that will likely haunt you long after you’ve left that strange island behind. It’s a film that objectively and unblinkingly tackles the joys and pains of the human experience head on and with stark clarity, finding magic and comfort in the darkest of situations, and for that alone it should be treasured.