J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Fantasia ’19: Away


Beautiful but forbidding, this island exists somewhere between the natural world and your subconscious. To survive, a young boy must survive the elements and an archetypal monster that could be real or a product of his own unconscious fears—or both. It is only seventy-five minutes, but animator-director-screenwriter-producer-editor-composer Gints Zilbalodis’s Away will likely be one of the most memorable (and possibly divisive) films that has premiered at the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

The boy wakes hanging from a tree, dangling by his parachute, when suddenly he comes face to face with the monster. He extricates himself in the nick of time, but the monster follows and follows. Despite his best efforts, he cannot shake the silent hulk, even with the help of the timely warnings provided by the yellow canary, who becomes his traveling companion. At least the scenery is beautiful to behold.

Whether you love it or hate it, give Zilbalodis credit for crafting a remarkably distinctive piece of animated cinema. There is no question, some people will not love it, given its complete lack of dialogue and heavy symbolic weightiness. We never really get to know the boy as a character, but that hardly matters. It is all about the journey and the spectacle (the sight of the giant is especially haunting). Many of have already compared Away to Michael Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle, which is apt, but try to imagine a teaspoon of A Monster Calls thrown into the mix.

If you buy into Away, it becomes a hypnotic cinematic experience. Visually, it is a true stunner. The details of the island’s environment look as if they could be of our Earth, yet somehow the way they are put together feels alien and exotic. Even if you can only engage with Away on a surface level, you should still appreciate Zilbalodis’s artistry.

Away looks awesome, but it also sounds quite striking, thanks to Zilbalodis’s minimalist soundtrack, which could pass for the work of Philip Glass. It is an amazing work of auteurist animation in the truest sense, given how many roles Zilbalodis played. Away really is its own cinematic island. Very highly recommended, Away should be on GKIDS radar following its North American premiere at this year’s Fantasia.

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