Children’s innocence and curiosity is something we should keep as much as possible as adults, just as taught by the little shell protagonist of this 2022 movie, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.
Basically, the story is just a long interview with this eccentric character, Marcel, living in a large house uninhabited for years, along with his elderly grandmother, Connie.
Marcel has his own daily rituals made up of games and little habits, such as picking fruit with an ingenious cable system or helping grandma in her garden, where they also care for small injured or sick insects that pass by.
However, who is behind the camera in this extended interview? Well, fortunately, we have the young documentary expert, Dean, recently moved into the house after a stormy separation from his wife.
Dean is happy to follow the days of his new little friend, starting to upload the videos to Youtube, where they get immense success with millions of views.
However, behind Marcel’s carefree cheerfulness lurks the deep sadness of losing his family long ago, accidentally ending up in a suitcase when the man of the house walked away after another fight with his woman.
Moreover, the condition of Grandma Connie, increasingly forgetful and seriously injured after an accident, further worries the little shell who fears he will soon be completely alone.
Fortunately, the videos’ success on the Internet is so resounding that even 60 Minutes‘ famous Lesley Stahl wishes to interview him, even though he doesn’t feel ready for such an important affair.
His friend Dean and Grandma Connie convince him otherwise, convincing him that, furthermore, this interview could help him track down the rest of the shell family.
The naive wisdom of innocence
Marcel the Shell is a delightful and unexpected mix of stop-motion animation and live-action footage for an original 2022 movie somewhere between a documentary and a Disney-style good feelings story.
A24 proves again to be a cinematic production company above most of its competitors, bringing to the big screen this fantastic little poem born out of a successful series of youtube shorts with nearly 50 million views.
A simple, compelling story shot in first person by the director himself, who is also the friend of the shell Marcel, although we only see him during the fictional interview on the 60 Minutes show.
Out of this fable comes an analysis of the Internet phenomenon, filled with people so quickly becoming passionate about the protagonist, although none of these followers actually do anything to help him.
Media exposure then becomes not about personal fulfillment but further alienation when Marcel realizes the Youtube bubble where he is famous doesn’t mean anything.
What matters are the people you are really close to, friend Dean and grandmother Connie; the latter very tired and ill, feeling the end of her days approaching, wanting to leave the world with her beloved grandson strong enough to handle the loss.
Marcel’s innocent charm captivates from the first moments, seeming like a strange character who sometimes does and says silly things, while a moment later, he seriously ponders the existential dilemmas of a shell, similar if not identical to human difficulties.
There is as much to discover in every scene of this movie as there is to find out outside the borders of a monitor.
The delight of yesterday’s cinema, today
Jenny Slate gives voice to this magnificent character, cheerful and sad at the same time, almost a child never fully grown up because he is a victim of a past trauma he never resolved that pushed him to (literally) lock himself inside a shell.
So Marcel relies on what he knows best: the house, his grandmother, and small objects such as his puppets or the trusty ball inside which he runs like crazy, sowing things and making a mess in every room.
His life passes happily in the garden, where he occasionally looks wistfully over the horizon looking for a family he never expects to see again, then dancing silly and joyfully, humming some old song lovingly or skating on dust to make his grandmother laugh.
Equally splendid is the character of Grandma Connie, voiced by such an excellent international star as Isabella Rossellini, an actress marked from birth to be a cinematic chosen one, being the daughter of the unforgettable Ingrid Bergman and the brilliant Italian director Roberto Rossellini.
Connie is a friend to all living creatures, having her own garden, which she cultivates every day despite fatigue, aches, and pains, besides nursing the bees or other insects who seek her for help as an old figure of authority and wisdom.
Finally, there is the character of Dean, the director who plays a director, also locked in neglect of a love he does not want to talk about, deflecting to something else whenever the topic arises.
This three-way cast is all this story needs to make you smile, cry, and pulse, without cinematic exaggeration but with straightforward, linear direction and editing, combining animation and live action to perfection in natural photography.