With Marcel A Little Goes A Long Way

I can happily recommend this week a funny little gem of a movie, Marcel The Shell With Shoes On.

Probably not quite like anything you’ve seen, novelty is only one of its strengths: deliberately small in the best sense, it zooms down in on beauty in expected places in a way that refreshes and occasionally even astonishes.

Filmed as a composite of stop-motion and live action, the drama follows the lead character (pretty comprehensively described by the title) as he makes the rounds of his (inexplicably animate) fun-sized life.

With his champagne twisty tops for chairs, some slices of bread for a bed, and various other throwaway household items artfully and whimsically reconfigured, Marcel acts as the adorable, gentle-spirited tour guide (alongside his pet piece of lint, Alan) of a charmingly reimagined domestic world.

Marcel lives with his grandmother, Connie, who is also a shell, as well as, it turns out, the only family member who remains after an impromptu sweep of the sock drawer by the now relocated owners of the house.

When a temporary tenant, Dean, arrives at the house (latterly converted to an AirBnb), and happens to be an independent film maker, he takes a documentary interest in Marcel’s situation and, viola, this film was born.

Are Marcel’s relatives still out there? Will Dean manage to deploy the power of social media to help find them? Will Marcel risk disrupting what remains of his and Connie’s homey tranquility, for the chance at recovering a greater, more encompassing love?

These may not sound like huge questions, but they are for Marcel, and not only because he is roughly the size of a walnut.

Rather, the concerns Marcel articulates and invites us to share are just those quiet little outwardly insignificant yet personally momentous pleasures, preoccupations, and fascinations which so many of us, when we get busy, are too liable to forget – and those same interests, incidentally, which these past few years of Covid-tide have given many of us space, perhaps reluctanctantly at first, to remember.

(When was the last time, before 2020, you pulled out a sewing kit, those old photographs, or that dusty guitar?)

The experience of the pandemic does seem to be an unstated premise for a lot of what we see in Marcel: lost contact with many (perhaps the majority) of our family and friends; renewed attentiveness to the minute accoutrements of kitchen and bedroom; Tom-Hanks-in-Cast-Away-like anthromorphization of inanimate objects (for me it never got quite this bad, but maybe it did for you?)  

Above all, perhaps, Marcel prompts a poignant appreciation of the fragility of our common lives and the real difference between internet-mediated interactions and in-the-flesh community.In summary, this may be a funny little movie, but it packs a quietly profound punch—in the kindness, openness to life, and quirky humanity of this gentle shell with shoes on; in the little lament he offers for the big losses we have all experienced; and, perhaps most of all, in the tiny-sized, celebratory hints at the newness, freshness, and unexpected discoveries still awaiting us in loveable things too readily overlooked.