I couldn’t let 2020 go by without talking to you about Away, a truly remarkable animated feature, and a modern silent too. This deceptively simple quest film has zero dialogue, and was all, every frame, the work of one man, Latvian filmmaker animator Gints Zilbalodis. He wrote, directed, scored and yes animated this award-winning film over the course of three and a half years.
He admits that that he concocted the screenplay on the fly, but that it soon came to feel that that film’s story was a metaphor for his struggles to complete the film. That’s why I say deceptively simple: beneath Away’s bright, almost cute surface there’s something deeper at work.
That story is straightforward, on the surface as the block-colour animation style. It’s the odyssey of a young man stranded on an island that he is trying desperately to escape. It’s not just his new surroundings he is trying to get away from: there’s a mysterious shadow ogre on his trail, who seems to kill every living thing it touches. The boy has a motorbike, and he is accompanied by a custard-yellow bird companion, but his route home is far from easy.
Away seems to follow in a recent tradition of modern silent cinema. The idyllic animated landscapes put one in mind of The Red Turtle, the survival narrative recalls All Is Lost. Yet this feels more like a game than a film – and not in a bad way. That feeling of improvisation in the plot, the slightly flat, but still rich computer animation techniques, and the boy’s quest, which involves meeting new challenges each time the landscape changes and manoeuvring through arches all add up to this. There’s a fantastical element too, not just in the toxic villain, and the boy’s understanding with his bird friend – a sense that the possibilities remain open, as in a video game.
As the boy’s difficulties increase, and his bond with the bird grows, we realise just how much beauty and character there is in colourful shapes that make up his world.
We’re on a journey, together with the boy. Away draws us closer.
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