Memoir Of A Snail

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Memoir Of A Snail
"Elliot time and again marries darkness and light, sweetness with sour to create a satisfying emotional umami."

Mary And Max “clayography” animator Adam Elliot again proves himself a master at hitting the tragicomic sweet-spot between laughter and tears with his second stop-motion feature. The joy - and, almost as often, the sadness - is there in every detail, from the many and various intricate ‘props’ employed or in the language of the script.

The name of his protagonist is the perfect example. Grace Pudel is an intrinsically enjoyable name to say, it rolls off the tongue with the sort of splash indicated by her surname, which though her dad is French, is pronounced in flat Aussie fashion, to rhyme with “muddle”. Beyond that, “grace” is one of those words that comes positively loaded with positivity. Pudel, by contrast, not so much.

Copy picture

Memoir, also, has a whiff of the grandiose about it that is perfectly cut down by its subject, the snail. This sort of thing is bread and butter to Elliot, who time and again marries darkness and light, sweetness with sour to create a satisfying emotional umami. Snails run, or perhaps I should say slip slowly, right through Elliot’s film. Grace - Gracie to her friends - (voiced by Succession’s Sarah Snook) is a big fan of them, especially her pet garden snail Sylvia, named after Sylvia Plath, of course. Sometimes she also imagines herself like one, curled safe in her shell against the world.

It’s Syvlia, who Gracie addresses the memories of her life to, as she mourns the passing of her friend Pinky (voiced by Jacki Weaver), who we’ve seen die in typically tragicomic fashion at the start of the film. Gracie, it turns out, is a twin to Gilbert (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) a sort of melancholic ying to her yang, who has a penchant for pyromania but also sticks up for her whenever she is bullied over her cleft palate. Elliot carefully builds the world of their childhood, which like everything he does, is rich in detail. There’s The Two Ronnies on the telly - a nod surely to his own love of wordplay - and Gracie's widowed dad who, in a recurrent character theme of Elliot’s work, was once an acrobat. An unfortunate accident - one of the less outlandish deaths we’ll see through the course of this film, which are another Elliot speciality - has left him paraplegic.

Death comes knocking in a kind of funny, kind of sad way yet again and the twins find themselves separated - Gracie stuck with a pair of swingers in a Canberra suburb and Gilbert sent to the opposite side of the country to live with a family of apple-farming religious zealots. This prompts Gracie to take refuge with her snails, collecting every sort of memorabilia imaginable, all beautifully crafted, of course, and hinted at right from the start of the film which sees the camera drift over a cornucopia of hints of what is to come. Elliot doesn't shy away from obsessions and trauma in his films, articulating them and seeing the absurdity in situations without passing judgement - yet another tricky balance he manages to strike repeatedly

The one bright spark in Gracie's life is the eccentric Pinky, who is a complete hoot but also, as the film progresses a source of increasingly poignancy. Never write a character off as just one thing in an Elliot film, because the filmmaker certainly doesn't. The homespun look of Elliot’s characters is, of course, important, but his writing takes you well beyond the surface. Pinky, for example, “smelt like ginger and second-hand shops”, a transportive description matched elsewhere but Gilbert’s smell, which reminds Gracie of burned matches.

The narration is vital to overcome what one imagines are the budgetary restrictions of not being able to lip sync everything. But, as always, Elliot makes a virtue out of this obstacle, enriching this memoir in myriad other ways. When Gracie says of Pinky, “I’m not sure whether she was joking, it was kind of like that with her”, she could be speaking about Elliot, a man whose skill rests on making sure we never quite know when things are going to be unexpectedly ribald, or poignant or just plain daft. He doesn’t need a bigger budget to achieve great things but you can’t but help imagine what he might produce if he had one.

Reviewed on: 12 Jun 2024
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Memoir Of A Snail packshot
A woman recalls the series of unfortunate events that have made up her life so far.

Director: Adam Elliot

Writer: Adam Eliot

Starring: Voiced by, Sarah Snook, Jacki Weaver, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tony Armstrong, Dominique Pinon, Eric Bana, Nick Cave

Year: 2024

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: Australia

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