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Review: Shell and Joint

I watched Shell and Joint on the Japan Cuts website and, well... uh...

Look, sometimes I’ll pretend to be confused by a movie for comedic purposes. Usually, it’s just hyperbole. I’m being completely sincere, however, when I admit that this avant-garde oddity utterly baffled me—and it’s infuriatingly difficult to articulate exactly why.

I think that the reason behind my lukewarm response to the film lies in its inherently contradictory nature. Visually, it’s pure art house; the beautifully composed static frames evoke such cinematic classics Jacques Tati’s Playtime and Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels. The subject matter, on the other hand, leans closer to the work of Kevin Smith; characters engage in long, rambling conversations that seem excessively preoccupied with various bodily fluids. I believe that these “philosophical” discussions are intended to feel frank and honest, but they often come off as crude, fetishistic, and vulgar. A few of the loosely connected vignettes flirt with more profound themes—including gender politics, the fear of death, and the existential question of whether “life” can truly be reduced to a series of chemical processes (the scene in which a young girl plugs her recently deceased pet beetle into her mother’s phone charger, hoping that a jolt of electricity might revive it, absolutely shattered me)—but they’re hardly enough to justify the bloated 154-minute running time.

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