out of Five
Running time: 87
A remarkable prize-winning documentary tackling the subject of disability. It’s a film that could easily resort to voyeurism, pity and sentimentality but never once does so. And it has one of tenderest love stories at its heart too.
What’s it all about?
The snail of the film’s title is Young-Chan, deaf-blind from almost birth, he moves slowly and tentatively around, dependent solely on his sense of touch and his wife Soon-Ho, who communicates with him by tapping a code on his hands (and who suffers herself from a spinal deformity). Korean documentarian Yi Seung-jun introduces us to Young-Chan’s planet, which he observes unobtrusively, watching the couple as they embark upon sensory trips to the beach and forests but also as they go about what would normally be considered ordinary and unchallenging tasks such as changing a lightbulb or writing.
With Soon-Ho's spinal deformity making her half Young-Chan's height, together in the wrong hands they could easily be treated as a curiosity and his actions mined for comedy. But credit is due to director Yi Seung-jun who never lets that happen, not interfering with interviews - simply watching and trying to understand. What is most unexpected about this film though is the very sweet love story between Young-Chan and Soon-Ho and the realisation that she is just as dependent on her husband as he is on her.
Yi has turned to cinema for his portrait, the one medium Young-Chan, lacking ears and eyes, can never experience. But lingering on scenes of Young-Chan touching and smelling trees, sledging or just feeling water droplets, we do get a sense of what life must be like ‘surrounded by a thick fog’ as the director describes his condition. He also collaborates with Young-Chan, using his subject’s own poetic observations of his worldview (‘I am an astronaut dreaming under my fingertips‘) to speak volumes, and as a result Planet of Snail could totally re-orientate your perspective on life.
Planet of Snail is a tender and lyrical documentary which thankfully isn’t presented as the usual tear-jerking tale of triumph over hardship and adversity, and which totally reverses any expectations about disability you might have had.