Away (2019) ****

August 17th, 2020
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Gints Zilbalodis | Animation, Latvia, 74′

‘Staying Alive’ is how best to describe this symbolic and gorgeously fluid ‘boys own’ adventure from Latvian animation wizard Gints Zilbalodis.

Away is the culmination of a decade spent honing his craft in a series of  delightful short animations such as Aqua, Priorities and Oasis whose focus is the main character’s lone struggle to overcome a powerful force. In this case a King Kong-like shape shifter that pursues him through a preternatural jungle with the aim of swallowing him alive.

Throughout this dreamlike often hazardous odyssey the boy’s only companion is a small yellow bird who he cares for with the utmost tenderness. The film seems to connect with our own everyday battle to keep going in these uncertain times, and above all, to make the right choices.  In other words, Away is a metaphor for life that echo Miyazaki’s delicately rendered animes which can work on a simplistic or subliminal level offering appeal for kids and adults alike.

More minimalist than Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo or even The Red Turtle but just as beautiful and and driven forward by an evocative soundscape the film shirks narrative conventions to tell a story that is firmly tethered to the natural while also teetering towards the surreal. Zilbalodis controls his entire project from 3D animation and script through to editing, soundscape and production.

The tousled-haired, wide-eyed teenager lands by parachute on a lush and mysterious island and has to find his way across often perilous landscape to reach sanctuary using an old-fashioned motorbike. Amongst the creatures he encounters are a flock of white birds, a large tortoise and his family and a pack of black cats who guard a powerful geyser that shoots out of a deep circular crevice, a grassy metaphor for Dante’s Inferno.

Although Away lulls us into a hypnotic sense of tranquility there is always the unsettling presence of the shape-shifter to keep us alert to danger and we start to feel for this unknown boy and his little bird, and indeed the tortoise, who at one point slivers down a snowy slope and on to its back, our hero coming to its rescue in one of many random acts of thoughtfulness. A beguiling and magical first feature. MT



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