I don’t often review French movies, let alone French animated movies, but when I do, you can be sure that it will be an artsy one about 95% of the time. The only non-artsy French animated films I know are adapted from popular comics, usually Astérix. The other comics are more prone to receive the terrible live action adaptation treatment.
Artsy French films are actually my favourite. Contrary to popular non-French belief, mainstream French films are a thing but they’re usually pretty bad, having been stuck in the same genres, stories, and themes for the past 25 years or so, whereas films d’art et essai, as we call them here, showcase a much greater creativity.
La Tortue Rouge (The Red Turtle) is a japanese, belgian, and french co-production, written and directed by one Michaël Dudok De Wit. It tells the story of a man who gets stuck on a luxurious, if isolated, island. If it is called La Tortue Rouge, it’s because a huge portion of the story involves, well, a huge red turtle. And spunky crabs.
I will now let your imagination do its thing.
Of course, I could choose to summarize the whole story for you, but it would be no use because I don’t consider this the kind of movie you watch for its script. The story exists but has no structure to rely on and conveys no clearly identifiable theme. This is probably a conscious choice of the filmmaker to make it so and it is a position that I respect. When you’ve got such strong visual storytelling, you can get away with that kind of vagueness.
La Tortue Rouge is one of those movies that I consider an experience. Every shot, every sound, every colour is deliberately put into place to make you feel. There is little, if any, meaning behind the story as a whole – it’s too ethereal for that, but for less than an hour and a half, it offers you a window into a pure emotional experience.
I did miss not having a good, strong story to sink my teeth into, and I have some other concerns that can’t be addressed here if I want to keep this review spoiler-free, but ultimately I did not regret seeing La Tortue Rouge. It is slow and feels long, but it’s not empty. It’s not only pretty, it’s poetic. And all of that without a single. Line. Of. Dialogue.
Writers, animators, film-buffs of all shapes and colours, if this movie is playing not too far away from you, don’t hesitate to give it a try.