Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Inquisitive Snail

The Inquisitive Snail (2007)
Director: Flemish Beauty
Canada, 1 Minute

The Inquisitive Snail could very well be the biggest surprise of Showcase 2 in the D.C. Shorts Film Festival this year.  A large part of this surprise might come from reading the provided paper on the festival which features a program for each of the showcases and programs throughout the week.  The program claimed the length of this particular animated short to be 14 minutes, so as the credits rolled on the previous film (an awkwardly placed, remarkably depressing Russian film called "The Letter") I prepared myself for a lengthy comedic romp involving a cute claymation snail purportedly embarking on some form of mischief or another on behalf of his human owner.  And oddly enough, the first 50 seconds of this film conformed beautifully to my expectations.  

A folksy narration conveys the story of this man who purchases a pet snail in order to send him spying on his neighbors to observe all their dirty little secrets.  Taking us through one secret to another, the plot builds like any classic parable, and we readily sense where the story is going.  We foresee some darkly comedic development of the snail's owner gathering more and more intel on all his neighbors, until an inevitable revelation or turn of consequences results in his own misfortune and a healthy moral bestowed upon us all.  At least that's what I expected from this supposed initially traditional animation, but my actual experience entailed a potentially brilliant skewering of those exact sorts of conventions we've come to embrace over the years of conditioning on fairy tails and morality fables.    Within the exposition of our dear snail's examination of human indecencies, the narrator explains that with every secret observed by the snail, his shell would grow in size with the rest of his body.  Sounds like a familiar take on the Pinocchio tale, only in the original version, Geppetto didn't eat his son in the final scene, which is exactly what happens here.

The sharp comedic twist at the end of this tale is a mildly disturbing revelation that the owner send his new pet on these reconnaissance missions in order to make him nice and plump for the evening's entree.  So there we have it.  No moral.  No downward character arc.  Just a bizarre insane joke that would surely put a smile on everyone's face if half of the audience wasn't likely to leave the film completely befuddled and perhaps a bit uneasy.  It would be easily to dismiss this film as a mere trifle, a throw-away pleasure with one nice joke and some good-looking animation.  However, I chose to bring this particular piece to attention here, because it deserves a second thought for what it so effortlessly accomplishes (with or without the misinformation from the program typo) in regards to utilizing the short form to induce an explicit response from the viewer played off decades worth of short story-telling convention.

As such I think it's fair to say this piece showed just as much if not more promise for this filmmaker as any of the other showcased in this particular collection.  Some of the sharpest writing, gorgeous visual construction, and subtly impressive manipulation of the short film format seen there.  I love it.


Benjamin said...

I definitely concur that it was one of the more interesting pieces of Showcase 2, and that it seemed to be in the wrong place in the group. It took me a few minutes to digest the sound and fury of "Pismo" before I even began to follow the snail, and the end was a classic "joke" finish.

Ashley Joyce said...

You really captured the spirit of this short. I initially laughed, as did most of the audience, but afterwards, the whole thing seemed kind of horrific. I loved it, though, and I'm usually not someone who enjoys claymation.