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Sunday, 15 November 2009

Review: Mary and Max, dir Adam Elliot (2009)

"This is telling the real feelings of human beings. And those feelings in real life most of the time are unspoken," says my best mate. "I think everyone who watches the film will be touched by the sensitivity."

I tend to agree with her. It's not often that you both cry and laugh while watching a single film. But Elliot had me chortling, guffawing and snickering. He also had me tearing up and getting rheumy.

Elliot's subtle clay work is perfect for telling this tender story of loss and redemption. Everything is a bit off-centre, bent, twisted, and droopy. Even Barry Humphries' voice - the narrator is one of Australia's most famous comedians (even though, like a lot of famous Australians, he lives in the UK) - slides and rasps its way through the quirky script like an Emery board across the top of a ripe pumpkin.

Starting when Mary - a plain girl from Melbourne's suburbs - is eight years old and ending with the final exit of fat, clinically-unstable Max, the film gives you a lot of reasons to be content. Good art always does.

And this is definitely art, and not merely cinema.

Claymation is a demanding medium, I imagine. But Elliot makes it look easy. I think that he really enjoys his craft. I also think that he doesn't mind spending years on a single project.

Mary's life is full of dissatisfaction and reaching out to a middle-aged New Yorker gives her solace. She copes better becuse of her new friendship. Max, on the other hand, finds Mary's questions alarming. After getting out of hospital, he starts writing again, but Mary betrays their friendship by writing her thesis on Asperger's Syndrome - the condition Max is afflicted with - and then publishing it.

Mary's reaction to Max's anger is equally severe. She descends into a depressive state, loses her husband, and attempts suicide. Finally, she's saved by Max, who sends a large parcel filled with cartoon figurines, as an act of forgiveness.

When Mary visits New York with her baby strapped to her back and loaded down by two red suitcases, she finds that Max was a true friend. Poor, loyal Max has laminated all of Mary's letters and taped them to the ceiling of his apartment.

Mary even finds the bottle of tears she had sent Max once, when she discovered that he didn't have such an ability.

It's a poignant moment. On Max's yarmulke, the red pompom Mary had sent him as a pre-teen, still adheres.

Elliot won an Oscar for the film that preceded this one, and I hope that the world sends out a similar signal this time. The man deserves all the encouragement that we can give him. Hopefully, given enough time and money, Elliot will find inside him the will needed to create another wonderful film for us all to enjoy.

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