|'Both films are beautifully animated, The Red Turtle in particular benefitting from the artistic involvement of Isao Takahata and the overall production from Studio Ghibli'.|
Screened as a double bill as part of LIFF30's Animation Day, Michael Dudok de Wit's Oscar-winning short Father and Daughter from 2000 and his feature debut, 2016's The Red Turtle, together showcase the director's fascination with our journey through life. They also provide evidence of both the artistic strengths and narrative slightness of Dudok de Wit's work, the latter of which ultimately holds both of his films back.
The short opens with a father bidding farewell to his young daughter before climbing into a boat and rowing off over the horizon. We then see the girl grow up and live her life, continuing to harbour a longing to see her father again even as she has children of her own and enters old age. The ending is touching and pleasingly open to interpretation, but even at under nine minutes it feels as though Dudok de Wit has stretched his idea out too much. When you consider how much the likes of Pixar manage to do in terms of character building and storytelling in their animated shorts, Father and Daughter comes up wanting.
The same problem ultimately hinders The Red Turtle. During the first half, focused upon an unnamed man who becomes marooned on a desert island, Dudok de Wit effectively tells the story of his efforts to survive and learn about his new environment, all whilst including virtually no dialogue. The director pleasingly puts a range of emotions up on screen through both the castaway and the island wildlife - a group of crabs seen at various points throughout are particularly humorous and endearing - with his relationship with the eponymous red turtle gradually becoming the central focus.
Whilst there are occasional excursions into the surreal during this section, the narrative takes a sudden and somewhat unexpected turn into the fantastical at around the halfway point. This works initially, but the further Dudok de Wit gets from this decision the more unfocused his film becomes. At just eighty minutes the film should feel swiftly paced, but instead becomes notably turgid during the second half. The story as a whole could be viewed simply as an magical fairytale, or with deeper subtext as an extended metaphor for the man's journey through life; the problem is that neither of these interpretations of The Red Turtle excuse the less engaging and unevenly executed areas of the film's narrative.
Both films are beautifully animated, The Red Turtle in particular benefitting from the artistic involvement of Isao Takahata and the overall production from Studio Ghibli. What this can't make up for in either case, however, is the precision and rigour lacking at times in Dudok de Wit's writing and direction. Whilst Father and Daughter and The Red Turtle both offer plenty to like, there are also too few reasons to love either film.
|Father and Daughter|
|The Red Turtle|
The 30th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 3rd-17th November 2016 at thirty venues across the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.