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Planet of Snail

Moving but never sentimental, Korea-set docu "Planet of Snail" explores the intimate relationship between a deaf-blind man and his wife, who acts as his conduit to the world by using a specialized variety of touch-based sign language.

Moving but never sentimental, Korea-set docu “Planet of Snail” explores the intimate relationship between a deaf-blind man and his wife, who acts as his conduit to the world by using a specialized variety of touch-based sign language. Low on drama but rich in lyrical moments and even humor, this study of matrimonial and domestic contentment, shot and helmed by Yi Seung-jun (“Children of God”), should bring a smile to auds everywhere it travels, which will probably be far on the fest trail and then farther on ancillary outlets, especially upscale TV stations.

Deaf and blind since childhood, but nevertheless capable of speech and highly articulate and intelligent, Young-chan explains how he felt terribly alone for years until he met Soon-ho, who suffers from a distorted spine and stunted growth. Now married and living in Seoul, the two have share an apartment and go about their lives like any other married couple, even inviting their many friends (mostly other folks with disabilities and their helpers) over for dinner parties and get-togethers. They even take part in an amateur theater production together.

Soon-ho communicates to Young-chan by tapping a code out on his hand, an adapted form of Braille, and he responds verbally for the benefit of those who can hear, or signs back on her hand. Often the camera lingers in closeup on their hands “talking” to each other, the fingers moving quickly like those of musicians, caressing their instruments through a language of touch, mysterious and sensual.

Helmer Yi chooses to focus on the quotidian details of the couple’s daily lives, like the heroic struggle required to change a light bulb in their apartment (she’s too short to reach the bulb, and he can’t see what he’s doing). Young-chan studies Hebrew and takes an exam, and later they go for walks in the local park, where he delights in nature by literally hugging trees, smelling flowers or feeling the winter sunshine on his face. Toward the end of the film, they’re briefly separated so that Young-chan can spend time in a facility learning how to cope without Soon-ho, just in case, which brings the docu to an emotional climax.

Some auds may feel frustrated that little is explained about how the two met, and the fact that Soon-ho’s own voice and story are mostly left unexamined. However, only the hardest heart could fail to be moved by their deep love for one another and their friends, their endurance in the face of challenges and their simple, unswerving religious faith.

Technically, the pic is fairly unremarkable, played out in a straight-up verite style with long takes and deep-breath editing rhythms. Use of extreme closeups is about as stylized as it gets.

Planet of Snail

South Korea-Japan-Finland

  • Production: A Creativeast, Dalpaengee presentation of a Creativeast, NHK co-production, in association with YLE , Finnish Film Foundation, with support of BCPF&EIDF Documentary Fund, the Sundance Documentary Film Program, Cinereach Documentary Grants. (International sales: Cat & Docs, Paris.) Produced by Kim Min-chul, Gary Kam. Executive producer, Cho Dong-sung. Co-producer, Janne Niskala. Directed by Yi Seung-jun.
  • Crew: Camera (color, HD), Yi; editors, Simon El Habre, Yi; music, Min Seong-ki; sound (stereo), Sami Kiiski; re-recording mixer, Peter Nordstrom; assistant directors, Woo Dong-yeol, Lee Jin-young, Park Ji-yeon. Reviewed at Intl. Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (competing), Nov. 20, 2011. Running time: 87 MIN.
  • Cast: With: Young-chan, Soon-ho. (Korean dialogue)
  • Music By: