It took Latvian animator Gints Zilbalodis three and a half years to write, produce, direct and score his spellbinding debut feature – and the finished product boasts a rare kind of magic.
A boy wakes up hanging by a parachute from a tree; as far as his sight will take him, there exists nothing but a limitless, lifeless plain in the world around him. But when a strange, shadowy goliath approaches, silently threatening to consume him, he has no choice but to flee across the strangely serene environment that engulfs him.
Across four euphonic chapters, titled ‘Forbidden Oasis’, ‘Mirror Lake’, ‘Dream Well’ and ‘Cloud Harbour’, the nameless boy flees his sluggish pursuer in search of civilisation. With only a flightless young bird for a companion, he conquers boundless deserts, icy tundra, mossy hilltops and bamboo forests, encountering spiral fountains and an army of purring cats on the way.
Such obstacles as a rickety scaffold-bridge, a prowling arctic fox and even a downed aeroplane partially disrupt the journey, but there is a deep sense of ascension as he draws nearer and nearer to the harbour town of his salvation.
With not a word of dialogue to disturb the calm, this languid and linear quest has all the qualities of an opiated daydream, with Zilbalodis’ restrained score guiding the emotional peaks and troughs on what feels like a genuinely spiritual journey. The true source of enlightenment, though, is the soft cel-shaded animation which lends a clean, utopian quality to the images.
And it’s the simple images that make Away so enchanting: a sole orange tree perched next to a crystal-clear pool; rows of Ghibli-esque shrines lining a mountain walkway; piles of circular stones on a mossy hillside. Above all, the fluid colour palette that drifts from warm yellows to vivid greens to stellar, snowy whites exudes a ceaseless calm, like a pillowy blanket over a tired body.
The director claims he made the whole thing up as he was going along, only realising near the end of production that the boy’s journey offered a parallel to his own dogged commitment to complete the film. And yet, somehow, the embryonic narrative seems not to matter. This is a film guided by gentle propulsion, and that’s all it needs.
A totally unexpected dose of wonderment.
We’d gladly stay on this ride for much longer.
Remember the name: Gints Zilbalodis is capable of greatness.
This spellbinding and spiritual Latvian animation has parallels with Studio Ghibli’s The Red Turtle.
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