Director: Michael Dudok de Wit
Running Time: 80 mins
The Red Turtle is a Belgian/French/Japanese film about the life of a man stranded on a desert island, and his relationship with the environment around him, along with a massive red turtle by the shore.
The first thing to note about this film is that there’s no dialogue. At all. Sometimes, that can make for a dull watch, but if everything is put together as well as it can be, then this genre of film can be one of the most therapeutic and poetic of all. The Red Turtle isn’t necessarily the most stunning film of all time, but it’s an impressive watch throughout, effectively forgoing dialogue yet retaining an engaging story, complemented by dazzling backdrops and a great score.
Before I get into what was really good about this film, I want to talk about the first twenty minutes. I think the best way to approach this film is only knowing it has no dialogue, because the way the story develops is actually very unpredictable. That being said, the opening act, where we see the castaway first stranded on the island and attempting to make an escape, isn’t quite so engrossing.
Although there are still some absolutely beautiful shots of the landscape, everything feels a lot more stagnant than it should do. The man’s eventual encounter with the red turtle doesn’t pack the punch the film is going for, whilst the experience of watching the dialogue-less film isn’t enhanced by the score, which really doesn’t pick up for a long time into this movie.
Unfortunately, the disappointing opening act meant I had a lower impression of the movie going into the latter stages, however it’s safe to say that everything really picks up as the film moves along. Again, there are some really surprising plot twists throughout the film, so I’ll try my best to avoid spoilers, but I can still talk about the way that director Michael Dudok de Wit’s incredible style plays such a role in the second and third acts.
As the story introduces a more personal and emotional note to the man’s isolation, everything becomes a lot more poetic. The first act was almost completely devoid of pure drama, but as the film unfolds, there are numerous heartbreaking and heartfelt moments alike that pull you into the story, largely because of the way the score and the visuals come into play.
Following the first act, the music becomes a lot louder, more powerful and far more emotional, but all for the better. Everything has a much greater sense of dramatic importance, and in tandem with some of de Wit’s truly astonishing panoramas of the beautiful night sky and sea, the film effectively takes on the form of a painting.
Although it does unfortunately drop off a little in the final act, and the final twist isn’t quite so impressive to see, the biggest triumph of The Red Turtle is its ability to create an engrossing and at times truly beautiful experience without the need for any dialogue or exposition. It’s not an all-time classic in my view, and doesn’t stand up to most solo Studio Ghibli productions, but it’s a different and wonderful watch nonetheless, which is why I’m giving it a 7.4.