I’m not one hundred percent sure how I felt about Away (2019), the Latvian fantasy, experimental animation. On the one hand, it is a sweet story, and on the other, it’s frustratingly dense to get into. Oh sure, the story is pretty straight forward but for a film that has no dialogue, and relies on visual narrative alone, having something that is somewhat minimalist cel-shading is just cruel.
After crashing on a mysterious island, a young boy, accompanied by a bird he’s befriended and using a motorbike he’s found, must journey across a serial landscape and find civilisation, while being pursued by a shadowy giant.
That’s it. That’s all the plot. It’s like a walking sim.
Lacking dialogue, the animators work to convey the personality of the boy, the bird, and the giant. We come to know the boy by his actions, his resolve, and his acts of compassion. But we don’t know his history, or how and why he crashed landed the plane in the first place. After a while, you begin to forget that there even was a plane crash to start with.
But we still don’t learn enough. We don’t learn what the giant was, or why this island holds so many fantastically things? Why are there no people? I mean, the boy finds bridges, stone tors, a motorbike, and a skeleton, so there have been people on the island before. Has the shadow giant consumed them? Is it the souls of people that were once there?
Maybe we’re not meant to know. Perhaps our search for meaning in the film is points compared to the boy’s search for civilisation and home. He doesn’t stop to question, to study, he stops to help some animals and keep going.
There is a dreamlike quality to it; nestled between the real and the uncanny, in Away everything feels normal every day and fantastical at the same time. It reminds me of German Expressionism that way, more so than the lack of spoken words.
While the cel-shading and minimalist works with the aesthetic tone, it also hinders the animation somewhat. Without the definition of the characters, parts of the animation look sluggish and, since it’s a cartoon, you end up focusing on that more than anything.
As I said, I’m not sure how to feel about it. It is worth a watch, just what you might get from it might be very different from what everyone else does.
Dir: Gints Zilbalodis
Scr: Gints Zilbalodis
Prd: Gints Zilbalodis
Ani: Gints Zilbalodis
Music: Gints Zilbalodis
Run time: 72 minutes