The Asian Reporter 19th Annual
Scholarship & Awards Banquet -
MYSTICAL JOURNEY. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, a surrealist film about a Thai man who is guided by ghosts as he contemplates reincarnation at the end of his life, is screening at Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum through June 30. Pictured is Uncle Boonmee hugging his late wife’s ghost as the two discuss life and love in the afterlife. (Photo courtesy of the Northwest Film Forum)
From The Asian Reporter, V21, #12 (June 20, 2011), page 13.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a beautiful, languorous journey between realities
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Produced by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Simon Field,
Keith Griffiths, and Charles de Meaux
Screening through June 30 at Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum
By Sarah Eadie
The Asian Reporter
Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives slowly and meticulously deliberates concepts of reincarnation and reality. While the polarizing film won the Palme d’Or ("Golden Palm") prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, critics and audiences alike cannot seem to agree on its merits.
The plot progresses nonlinearly, slipping back and forth from the present to the past without warning. The movie opens with a buffalo escaping from its tether and running off into the wilderness, where it is recaptured. The scene is blasé until the camera cuts to a shadowy man-monkey figure with glowing red eyes.
This initial story — presumably a vision of one of protagonist Uncle Boonmee’s past forms — sets the tone for the rest of the film. The scene is painstakingly long, especially for the YouTube generation of bite-sized entertainment, but there is payoff for those with patience.
The jolting insertion of the man-monkey into this otherwise normal scene is just one of the few instances when Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives draws the audiences in and out of reality without warning. It is perhaps director Weerasethakul’s way of insinuating that our human perception of reality and a greater cosmic reality are more seamlessly linked than we think.
We first meet Uncle Boonmee (played by Thanapat Saisaymar) in human form on a trip to the countryside, where he spends his final days living quietly while slowly dying of kidney failure. His living loved ones who have accompanied him are joined one evening at the dinner table by the ghost of his wife and long-lost son, who has since mated with a monkey spirit and morphed into one himself.
Perhaps one of the most rib-tickling moments in the film is the dialogue between Boonmee’s present sister-in-law and his simian son when she asks him, "Why did you grow your hair so long?" In Boonmee’s world, this is how the living and the dead communicate — easily and naturally. Director Weerasethakul chooses not to indicate the arrival of the spirits with any special music or other film devices. They simply fade slowly and subtly in and out of human sight.
Another charming scene in the film, and perhaps the most memorable, occurs during the second illumination of one of Boonmee’s past lives. A princess with a deformed face scorns her human lover, convinced that he can never see past her cosmetic flaws. As she kneels by a lake and gazes dreamily into the water, a sweet- talking catfish convinces her to shed her clothing, gold jewelry, and inhibitions and join him in the lake. As the woman and the catfish enjoy each other’s adult company, it isn’t clear which form Boonmee inhabits in the scene.
The implications of either option on the deeper meaning of the film provide ample intellectual fodder for more cerebral moviegoers, but even casual viewers will appreciate this scene for its beautiful underwater shots and captivating strangeness.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is not a difficult movie to swallow, despite the heavy subject matter. Charming Uncle Boonmee and his family are entertaining to watch and follow, but the stamina required for an audience used to the pomp and circumstance of modern movies may find Weerasethakul’s award-winning film to be frustrating and self- indulgent. Though not for everyone, the film is highly recommended to movie lovers who are nostalgic for the era of long shots and slow deliberateness of an older generation of films.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is screening at the Northwest Film Forum, located at 1515 - 12th Avenue in Seattle, through June 30. To learn more, call (206) 267-5380 or visit <www.nwfilmforum.org>.