Away makes for a remarkable technical achievement amidst a stylish touching story of one boy’s efforts to survive a tragedy.
It is no insult to say that the most impressive thing about Away might actually be its backstory. It seems a Herculean effort to imagine that just one single person is responsible for directing, writing, editing, composing the score, and animating a feature length animated movie. That Gints Zilbaldolis’s labor has grown into such a strange and elegiac piece of art makes for quite an achievement.
The film tells the story of an unnamed young boy, at first stuck to a parachute in a tree in an unknown land. Soon, a large black gelatinous creature approaches him with clearly ill intentions. And so the boy begins to run, eventually finding an avian companion and then a motorcycle for transport. And yet the encroaching darkness remains omnipresent on the boy’s, and the viewer’s, mind. It is a deceptively simple set-up for a film interested in ruminating on loss and survivorship.
The animation is stylized and certainly not up to the sort of technical quality one expects in a major studio animated film. However, the artistry on display allows for surprisingly evocative constructs despite a lower pixel count than any Pixar film has ever been forced to face. I first watched Away weeks ago and certain images have remained as clear in my mind as though I just completed a screening – one seen sees a seemingly endless line of cats each awaiting their chance to drink from a natural geyser that appears to provide them all essential drink once per day. Another sees the boy cross a mirrored lake on his motorcycle as a huge flock of white birds flies overhead: Zilbaldolis’ animation creates a spellbinding duplicate effect that is as compelling visual as any animated film will muster this year.
The structure of the film is evocative of many adventure video games – each new segment of the boy’s journey is marketed by a new chapter heading which echoes the feel of advancing to a new level. It’s one of the rare instances I can recall where the tropes of gaming have been effectively deployed in the service of film. But it also can serve to disconnect your emotional attachment to the boy’s inner turmoil and struffle as Zilbaldolis peels back the layers on the boy’s circumstances of survival.
It bears noting that the film is basically devoid of dialogue, and the narrative is fairly viewed as slow compared to most conventional animated material. Nevertheless, my two-and-a-half-year-old son sat enraptured for most of the film’s run time. Perhaps it was Away’s more measured cuts and stark emphasis on visual storytelling that caught his imagination. Without any prodding from me, the giant monster’s re-appearance elicited shouts of “oh no, daddy!”. Zilbalodis has clearly mastered a universal style of expression such that I think the movie is worth showing to younger viewers.
Away is likely to be a bit of a shock for though honed on the Minions of their animated world, but the film presents a surprisingly engaging and deep picture for those willing to make the effort. And one person making a film of this scope is truly an astonishing achievement.
Away opens in UK and Irish cinemas from August 28.
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