Planet of Snail: Tribeca Review
Tribeca Film Festival, World Documentary Competition
Min-Chul Kim, Gary Kam
Seung-Jun Yi's doc approaches the disabilities of a writer who is both deaf and blind, and can only see the world through touching.
NEW YORK — A disability-centric doc that moves viewers without resorting to trite devices, Seung-Jun Yi's Planet of Snail takes a condition most of us would find unbearable and demystifies it while finding room for poetry. Its pairing of extreme subject matter and aesthetic restraint makes it well suited for arthouses.
PHOTOS: 10 of Tribeca 2012's Films to Watch
Both deaf and blind almost from birth, Cho Youngchan can only experience the world through touch. He reads Braille, using an electro-mechanical Braille-display device when books aren't available, and can "hear" what others are saying only via a finger-tapping code that requires constant contact. Despite these obstacles to communication, he is a writer, using poignant metaphors to capture his relationship to the world. (The film's title is never explained here, but its snail's-pace gist is clear as we watch the young man navigate his physical environment.)
Youngchan is married to Soon-Ho, a woman whose spinal disfigurement makes her barely half his height. It sounds cheap to describe their disabilities as complementing each other, but the film shows a bond transcending mere teamwork: Here, a small chore -- replacing an oddly shaped fluorescent lamp, say -- becomes an almost astonishing symbiotic achievement.
Late in the film, Soon-Ho silently coaches Youngchan until he can hit the cameraman with a tossed pinecone, but instruction can go in the other direction as well: When he writes a play, Youngchan steers a sighted actress toward a believable performance without being able to see or hear her.
Love story aside, the film's most affecting moments -- like a scene of literal tree-hugging, in which the infinite variations of bark texture offer something like rapture -- could easily have been mawkish in another filmmaker's hands. But Seung-Jun Yi's austere approach, enhanced by a subtle electronic soundtrack whose glitchy percussion echoes the bumpy movement of mechanical Braille, keep sentimentality at bay.
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival, World Documentary Competition
Production Companies: NHK, Imamura Ken-ichi
Director: Seung-Jun Yi
Producers: Min-Chul Kim, Gary Kam
Executive producer: Dongsung Cho
Music: Min Seonki
Editor: Simon El Habre, Seung-Jun Yi
Sales: Maëlle Guenegues, CAT & Docs
No rating, 87 minutes
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