Away – Review

Written & Directed by Gints Zilbalodis

Latvia/2020/75mins

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Turning back, a young boy lives in the shadow of a hulking beast, a colossus of immense stature and being. Shrouded in amorphous black wisps and eyes, no matter how far ahead he escapes the being – its presence follows. Away is a concise, relatively short feature from filmmaker Gints Zilbalodis which demonstrates the spectacle of animation outside of the large-scale studios and ingenuity of a lone creator. 

Towards the midway point, this young man hurtles across an endless reflective abyss aboard his motorcycle. A small, chirping and canary-yellow feathered friend safely nestled into his satchel, the panning animation unfolds a world of infinite possibilities but maintains a grounded sense of detail. It is here that the recognisable and indisputable talents of filmmaking are present, illustrating the bountiful potential of animation.

A clean narrative, there’s an accessible essence of communication as Away has a silent protagonist, in fact, it has no dialogue at all. Told through animation, original scoring and storytelling, Away is as tight and natural a story as could be, that of a young boy making his way home and pursued by his insecurities, concerns and doubts.

Broadly minimalistic, the art style for characters leans towards solid colouring and less definition, but the method highlights their eyes. It’s innocent, trusting, and opens up by stripping away complexities which are in turn left to the emotive conveyance of score, tone and storytelling. Where intricacy finds itself merging into Away is within the backdrops, which demonstrate Zilbalodis’ capacity with varying techniques of animation. This leads to two pinnacles of Zilbalodis’ ability, the finale, and a climax to the second chapter, which is nothing short of a harmonious execution of visual storytelling emblazoned by an acute musical composition.

A minor drawback, there is a stagnation with this minimalist design, or at the very least with the digital animation. In respects to the lumbering colossus or the flitting birds and creatures, momentum carries better, but there’s a sense of automation with the young boy. His movements are limited, too clean and synthetic. Where the others move naturally, this restricted capability with the boy’s manoeuvres momentarily steps the audience back out of the moment.

Occasionally a film presents itself under the most liberating and autonomous of ways. Animation offers freedom of expressive control, opening itself to the varying forms of artistry and offering a diverse matrix to manipulate. Director and writer Zilbalodis isn’t only the creative writer and director of the film, they’re responsible for the animation, the editing and composition. A remarkable feat, and a testimonial to the influence of filmmaking and passionate care taken in bringing colour and lighting to life.

Sombre, the score of Away plays reinforcer for the animation, weaving its way into the pacing fittingly. The film feels the correct length, the encounters with other animals, both adorable and concerning, slot neatly into the story and each parcel themselves with unique themes. From the snow foxes and the crisp, but frosted mountains to the spiralling emerald depths of forests home to legions of black cats, the rise and fall in tempo coincide with the change in visual aesthetic.

One person made this film. One man tells the story of a young boy traversing adversary and obstacles to make it home. Its fusion of the minimal with complex, without overbearing or diluting the other, is a mark of talent. Away is as enrapturing as it is soothing, and any minor blips in character movements are virtually eclipsed by the atmospheric magnificence which charters a fresh outlook of animation.

AWAY is out now on all major digital download platforms, as well as various independent cinema platforms, including Curzon Home Cinema and Modern Films.

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