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Review: The minimalist, nearly silent animated film ‘Away’ points to a talent to watch

A scene from the animated film “Away.”
A boy ventures into a mysterious forest in one adventure in the animated film “Away.”
(Subliminal Films)

For several years, the young Latvian animator Gints Zilbalodis has garnered favorable attention at festivals for his short films. “Away,” his first feature, is broken into chapters (“Forbidden Oasis,” “Dream Well”) that feel like linked individual shorts.

An unnamed boy finds himself stranded in a bleak desert after surviving a plane crash. Pursued by a menacing giant, he embarks on a motorcycle journey that takes him through forests, past ruins, across vast lakes and over mountain passes. Along the way he makes a single friend: A yellow fledgling, whom he nurtures until it learns to fly.

“Away” unfolds at a deliberate, meditative pace that matches its minimal, arid graphics. The characters and landscapes have almost no details. The boy’s body consists of a few solid-colored shapes; the bird is plain yellow, with nothing to suggest the texture of its feathers. The boy never speaks a word; the soundtrack consists of a brooding score and few sound effects.

Zilbalodis’ storytelling is intriguing but oblique. The boy encounters various animals and undergoes a series of trials before reaching his safe destination. But the significance of his journey is left for the audience to determine.

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“Away” is the polar opposite of the brightly colored musical fantasies of the Hollywood animation studios. Viewers weary of the detailed look and upbeat tone of many big-budget American films may enjoy contemplating Zilbalodis’ highly personal, austere vision. He’s already at work on his next film and is clearly a talent to watch.

'Away'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 29, Laemmle Glendale


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