One of the most original and unique animated films of recent times, Away is a silent film that wears its heart on its sleeve. Following a young boy who lands in unknown territory, he finds a motorbike and a bird and searches for safety as he is chased by a large shadowy monster that seeks to kill him. Written, directed and scored by Latvian filmmaker, Gints Zilbalodis, Away is an incredible achievement for him, especially considering that he also animated the entire film by himself. The computer animation is unlike anything I have ever seen before and found myself really appreciating the style and in love with the contrast between the living creatures and the natural world and how the two coincide.
Away is a clearly labour of love for Zilbalodis who has created an incredible feature debut all by himself. Although the plot itself is fairly minimal, it does make for an interesting character study. We don’t know who this boy is and how he got there and yet, we understand his plight and the connection he develops with the bird. In its tone and silence, it is easy to make comparisons with animated films of late such as Studio Ghibli’s The Red Turtle as that also has some of the same qualities. Be aware though that Away is its own film and like the films of Studio Ghibli, is invested in its own universe and lore despite its similarities. Thanks to the lack of storytelling, the message from Away is up to interpretation whether you take it literally or metaphorical, it is a film that is designed to gauge a reaction from its audience.
The style of computer animation is incredibly minimalistic and marks a welcome change from a landscape where animated films go overboard to provide every single fibre and texture that can be overwhelming at times. Where the animation Away really thrived is in its natural backdrops, particularly the mountain areas and valleys. Enough detail to distinguish the shading and implied distance yet following a particular colour scheme so the film looks consistent and maintains it’s uniqueness. The design of the shadowy monster definitely has tinges of Ghibli, specifically the Forest Spirit when it transforms into the Nightwalker in Princess Mononoke. The idea of this huge shadowy presence that kills the life it touches can be interpreted in so many different ways. What I also found particularly interesting is how the design of the monster doesn’t have any distinguishing features over than its basic shape and colour and yet still remains a powerful presence when onscreen.
The music by Zilbalodis is used during the majority of the film, although there are some scenes of silence. The score contains a lot of large, open pieces that reflect the beautiful landscapes where the boy finds himself. The piece that plays as he rides across a watery surface underneath the sunny sky is particularly good as it captures that whimsicalness and mystery that the film conveys. The film may not have any dialogue but Zilbalodis does a great job of bringing the words to life through the score.
Overall, Away marks a wonderfully gripping feature debut that thrives in its minimalism. Zilbalodis is a filmmaker to watch out for and it’s exciting to see where his career will take him next. It would be great to see him work on a project for somewhere like Studio Ghibli in the future and see his style develop even further. If this is what he can achieve by himself then imagine what he can do with an entire team behind him!
What did you think of Away? Let me know in the comments below!