Planet Of Snail

Planet Of Snail


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

It's almost impossible to imagine what it must be like to be deaf-blind, although phrases such as "trapped in the dark" and "isolated" spring readily to mind. Seung-jin Yi's quiet and moving documentary, which won the top jury prize at the International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam, subverts these expectations as he follows the daily life of Young-Chan, a deaf-blind aspiring poet and writer, who has not let his disability constrain him. Far from being alone, Young-Chan is happily married to the diminutive Soon-Ho and has a wide circle of friends. They communicate chiefly through touch, tapping out messages to one another as though playing the back of each other's hands like a piano or using an electronic device that renders what is being said into braille.

Young-Chan and Soon-Ho - who carries a spinal disability herself - are doers and thinkers, patiently engaging in what many people would consider an everyday task with a military precision that defies their restrictions. Whether they are discussing philosphy, helping a theatre group to better depict the lives of the deaf-blind or engaged in the changing of a complex lightbulb, they work in a harmony of which virtually any couple would be envious.

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Yi captures their moments together with a delicacy and lightness of touch reminiscent of the snow falling outside their apartment. He is a patient observer, focusing on not just the couple's actions but their reactions to one another as well. So, as Young-Chan begins to click a lightbulb into place we are watching, not him, but his wife's beaming smile of approval at his achievement.

Yi uses his film to explore not just the nature of unspoken communication but also the problems that relying on a 'translator' can bring. At one point, one of Young-Chan's friends - frustrated that a mutual pal is inadequately describing his feelings of loneliness - brushes him aside. He also documents the importance of independence and friendship, both through an accident that befalls one of their deaf-blind friends and through an outreach programme that sees Young-Chan tackle the world in fresh ways without Soon-Ho at his side.

Yi proves adept at documenting the tactile nature of Young-Chan's relationship with the world away from his more intimate back and forth with Soon-Ho. Whether it is lying buried on the beach, sand damp against his skin, reaching delicately to feel spots of rain on a piece of glass or capturing his droll humour as he tells Soon-Ho he's on a date with a tree, there is a careful respect about everything Yi films. He doesn't just give us an opportunity to see and hear about Young-Chan's life - we feel it, too.

Reviewed on: 10 May 2012
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Documentary about a deaf-blind man and his wife.
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Director: Seung-Jun Yi

Starring: Young-Chan, Soon-Ho

Year: 2011

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: South Korea

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