It’s hard for me to write a review of this movie because since I saw it on Saturday night, I’ve told so many people about it that I feel all my words have been used up. Still, I don’t think there will be much overlap (hi, C!) between the two groups so I’ll just go ahead and be repetitive. Sorry in advance.
To put it briefly: this is a beautiful, touching, inspiring movie. To put it longly: I was afraid it would be too slow and was not sure I would have the patience to sit through it after already having seen two movies that day. I even chose a seat on the aisle so I could sneak out if I needed to. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, it was slow. Yes, there were lots of silent beauty shots of water, waves, rain, trees. But the stillness didn’t bother me. You needed it to absorb the story and get to know these two beautiful characters.
So what’s it about? you ask. Very little, in fact. It follows a couple in South Korea, Young-Chan and his lovely wife whose name I forget right now. Young-Chan lost both sight and hearing at a young age and now lives in a self-described fog. “Snails” are how the deaf-blind community call themselves in Korea. He must have gone deaf after learning speech, as he can speak to communicate with the outside world. Of course, as a non-Korean speaker, I don’t know if he is particularly difficult to understand. She suffers from some unnamed spinal disability which is implied to influence her lifespan, although that is never spelled out clearly. She communicates with him by tapping Braille on top of his fingers; this is made even more touching by her gently speaking the words as she types them. They are truly, madly, deeply in love and a more genuine and loving relationship has seldom been portrayed on film.
There are many scenes in which we are gently laughing with them at the sometimes ridiculous situations they find themselves in. Young-Chan lives with a quiet dignity, but tackles many tasks which may seem silly to the outside world. His elegant approach and ability to laugh at himself makes us only want to cheer him on. There is a wonderful scene towards the beginning in which she notices the light bulb in their bedroom has gone out. She tries to stand on the bed to reach it but she is so tiny that there are still 2 meters between her and the fixture. He then stands on the bed and she gets on his shoulders, but that dissolves into laughter and collapsing on the bed. The only possibility is him changing the bulb, but this is not a simple arrangement. It is a complicated circular fluorescent bulb with two connections. Once he gets it out, she writes down very carefully the details before going out to replace it while he waits patiently at home. When she returns, he tears eagerly into the package and then they’re back at it. He does what he can by touch, but when he’s not sure of the next step, he has to bring his hands down so she can tap directions on his fingers. When it finally seems correct, he gets down and we all hold our breath as she flicks the switch… nothing. But it’s fluorescent, and takes two seconds to flicker on. When it does, the entire audience clapped in relief and congratulations.
On the website, if you click on “Media” and then on “Clips,” you can watch another charming excerpt on the top left. They go to the park and he hugs a tree. She asks him what he’s doing, and he replies, “Talking to the tree.” “Is it fun?” “Yes, we’re dating.” How sweet is that?
We see him sledding, swimming, getting buried in the sand at the beach, examining the raindrops. He says in a voiceover while sledding, “I have never seen a starry night. But that does not mean that I don’t believe in their existence.” He is a poet, typing away incessantly on his Braille machine and we see his anticipation over an essay contest that he has entered. Many of the beautifully filmed sequences are accompanied by his voice reading his own poetry.
If I go on, there will be no reason for you to go see this movie and everyone needs to see it. I saw this four days ago and haven’t been able to shake it; it is by far the best movie I’ve ever seen at IDFA. Please, go out and find it. And let me know what you think.
Breaking news: Planet of Snail won Best Documentary at IDFA this year. And to think I just went because it was one of the few that wasn’t sold out! Glad to see others shared my opinion.