Taking the title of “one-man show” a step forward from the average crowd, this animated marvel is a creation that comes from one singular mind; the maddening persistence of vision from Latvian director Gints Zilbalodis. Small-scaled in narrative, explosively grand in world building, the universe set in Away is an extensive fictional reality. The film is essentially one large video game cut-scene, where the audience observes our hero’s actions and risks with each decision he takes. With every new motive and discovery, Away gradually turns into a twisty cat-and-mouse breathless adventure that will leave audiences hooked, with each passing minute. It takes all the basic elements of cinema (clear motivations, simple plot, distinct protagonist(s) and lead antagonist) and melds them into a freshly baked Crock-Pot of clean, straightforward storytelling.
The most refreshing element of Away, is actually it’s surprising lack of predictability. Unlike the large majority of action-based adventure flicks, Away never relies on typical forced and candid character arcs, nor the typical three-act narrative structure. The film is primarily a reflection on human interaction with nature; utilizing the absolute most of its atmospheric environments to the film’s ambiguous advantage. Even the creatures add to film’s spellbinding demeanor and tone; where they play a key part with the hero’s journey. A yellow bird in particular adds humanity between the boy and his confused voyage to return home. We see the chemistry between the boy and the bird, played solely through passive moments of peace and tranquility.
Never does the film rely on the unneeded effects of live-dialogue, or speech for that matter. It’s constantly mute, to the point where the movement and expressions of characters are our only gateway to understanding the inner-complexities of these livid, beautiful characters. Unfortunately, what ultimately suffers is a lack of communication. While Zilbalodis’ exemplary designs and artistic direction is wildly impressive and arguably ahead of it’s time, the at-times jarring movements adds a certain amount of disconnect for those confused by some of the stilted actions. In the process, this grating effect suffers with the film’s rewatchability, creating an effect that feels undeserved for a project with this much work put behind it.
Like most low-budget magnificent pieces of art, all this film really needed was a bit more time in its production. Away is breathtaking in scale, and minimalist in it’s bare essentials. Destined to be an animated classic, and a major inspiration for many up-and-coming student animators, Zilbalodis’ work ethic and consistent understanding and dedication to his own project, is an admirable feat of solo artistic expression. Be prepared for a transcendent experience!
Away screened at this year’s Ottawa International Animation Festival