The trials of being a softy
I spent the first hour or so of “Soft Shell Man” wanting to slap the protagonist silly. I wanted to take his pointy, French-Canadian schnoz and smear it into an oozy pile of reality.But slowly, as the film progressed, my frustration with him melted off. Then, I actually started to like him a little bit. By the end, I almost identified with him.
Alex is an underwater photographer who kicks off the film with a near-death experience when he loses consciousness at the bottom of a deep trench in the Indian Ocean. It wasn’t entirely clear to me what purpose this incident served in the film’s plot, aside from functioning as a metaphor. Because, in his interactions and relationships with people, Alex has a general tendency to dive into things too deeply. And he doesn’t appear to be very aware that he’s doing so. He touches everyone profoundly just by wanting to be a great friend, and his “acquaintances” are quick to fall in love with him. He, in turn, with his need to perpetually acquiesce to everything, throws out “I love you,” almost as often as normal people say “How are you?”He agrees with everybody, molds his opinions around those of whomever he’s with at the time, and (almost) never disagrees with anybody.When he starts sleeping with Marie, a journalist, he changes his plans to fly to Honduras to stay in Montreal – where his wife whom he abandoned also happens to live – to pursue his new interest. Then, when it becomes apparent that Marie’s best friend, Sara – who is living with Alex’s best friend, Sam – is falling in love with him, he gets wrapped up in a tender moment and sleeps with her, too. He also gets stuck delivering cocaine for his neurotic marijuana dealer, simply to make her happy (and to prevent her from lapsing into a screaming fit, which seemed to be the result of not complying to her wishes), and makes friends with some of her clients, just to be … you know, likable.
The French name of the film is “Un Crabe dans la Tete” – “A Crab in the Head,” which provides a lot more insight into the surreal sequences that spring up throughout of an insect-like creature crawling along a mucous-like membrane during Alex’s complicated emotional moments. At the end, when Alex escapes to some barren, arctic landscape where he is seen wearing his scuba gear, peering into a watery hole in the middle of an expanse of ice, it’s not certain if this is truly the death of him, or the window of clarity into his own soul. Maybe it’s neither.Maybe next time …
If you think this film sounds interesting and you’d like to see it, well, you probably can’t. The Vail Symposium featured “Soft Shell Man” Monday night as part of the Beaver Creek Winter Film Series, which continues Monday with “Enduring Love,” a film based on the psychological suspense novel by Ian McEwan about how fate and accidents shape people’s lives. On Jan. 24, the series continues with “In This World,” the story of Afghan refugees who try to escape to the United Kingdom and take a dangerous journey through Pakistan, Turkey and Iran.All three films in the series are part of the Film Circuit, a branch of the Toronto International Film Festival. Denver film critic Walter Chaw (www.filmfreakcentral.net) was on hand after the film Monday, having procured several modes of transport to Beaver Creek after getting in a car wreck after leaving Denver. Although he missed the film, his hypotheses based on what he knew – that Turpin, as a cinematographer, probably incorporated lots of surreal, trick camera work into the movie and that Canadian cinema is renowned for its sex phobia, depicting sex scenes as something wrought from some dysfunctional relationship or not depicted at all – were pretty much dead-on. That’s what seeing 450 films per year will do for you.He also pointed out that films such as these are very difficult to access in the United States, much less in the Vail Valley (he said that since its 2001 release, “Soft Shell Man” has been sitting on a shelf in Canada), so those interested in independent films might consider taking the opportunity to catch the other two. Chaw, a wealth of ideas, will conduct a discussion after the films. Tickets are $8. To reserve tickets, call 970-845-TIX, or visit http://www.vilarcenter.org. Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Colorado