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The Island

Director - Anca Damian - 2022

"Dirty gem"
Anca Damian's retelling and updating of Robinson Crusoe is a psychedelic joy for the eyes and ears - from the International Film festival Rotterdam


We don’t all live on a Yellow Submarine. Far from it as Anca Damian‘s new film makes abundantly clear. We live in a world that is riven by conflict, sullied by waste and fast spinning towards a very uncertain future. But it was the 1968 George Dunning film for The Beatles Yellow Submarine that most readily sprang to mind while watching The Island. Despite its subject matter, it has that exuberant colourful giddiness. The animation feels like the result of a truly talented child going for it. And the music is a pounding by Alexander Bălănescu and Ada Milea is comprised of almost percussive string quartets – think Eleanor Rigby – and brilliantly hypnotic songs that devolve into chants and laments.

A superbly inventive reimagining of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, we first meet Robinson (composer, Balanescu) already lost on his island – which in only the first of many paradoxes resembles nothing other than a ship. Dispensing with the usual imperialism, Robinson is a here black man and before long with the help of the augmented reality from his iPad, he saves Friday a refugee from drowning. Everyone else on the ships dies, they sing. Robinson starts to school Friday in the way of survival, even as he is plagued by starvation and dreams of supermarkets. He steers him clear of the mermaid with the tail made of traffic cones and teaches him about the water bottles which symbolise relief and life but also modern waste of the environment. They will be separated as Robinson is taken by a woman claiming to be his mother and her ex-pirate paramour.

To be perfectly honest, I spent a lot of the film not understanding what was going on and that struck me as perfectly acceptable. There’s a narrative looseness and plenty of room for interpretation and fun to be had on the part of the audience. Does it all hang together as political allegory? Perhaps not. The refugees who come off the boats all look identical to Friday, which plays somewhat away from the idea that these are individual human beings. But the animation is constantly reinventing itself and Robinson and the world he inhabits morphs between dreamlike visions and the banal normality of foil blankets and the flotsam and jetsam of the sea.

Damian has already impressed with her films such as Crulic – The Path to Beyond (2011), the docu-drama The Magic Mountain (2015) and 2019’s Marona’s Fantastic Tale. Here the Romanian director continues to make fascinating and rich cinema.

The International Film Festival of Rotterdam (IFFR) is an online edition running from 26 January to 6 February.

"Dirty gem"

By John Bleasdale - 03-02-2022

By John Bleasdale - 03-02-2022

John Bleasdale is a film critic and writer based in Italy. He has published a novel entitled Blood is on the Grass and a book of short stories as well as a number of articles and features. His work ha...

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