Thursday, March 10, 2011


Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, last year's Palme d'Or winner from the internationally acclaimed filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, seems to be getting released in the States on a slow but steady schedule thanks to the stalwart distributor Strand Releasing. Case in point its San Francisco run - after its screenings today, its last day on the SF Film Society screen, it's moving over to the Presidio where San Francisco good guy Frank Lee is showing it for another week.

So this is one of those times where criticism turns into promotion, 'cause having seen the film your proprietor can only urge my fellow American cinephiles to RUN. RUN to any screening near you and let yourself live in this gorgeous, otherworldly, amazing film.

Weerasethakul has become the poet of the Thai countryside, capturing both the lives of the people who live and work there (or are simply passing through) and the mythology that informs those people's spiritual lives. Uncle Boonmee is spun from a 1983 book in which the title character discussed visions of his past lives experienced during meditation, but the movie expands into Weerasethakul's own life, crafting a fanciful tale that encompasses many of his tropes, including Thai soap operas and mythological creatures. A friend who saw Uncle Boonmee with me noted that all of Weerasethakul's films seem to begin with the same foley: the sound of insects gently but insistently buzzing in the forest, with occasional interruptions from nocturnal human activity. I observed that the film ends, as many of his others, with its characters adrift in the modern world, with canned music and blinking lights abuzz with a similar electricity. Weerasethakul's films are all animated with a lifeforce that carries from the mythologized past and, optimistically, beams even from the gaudiest, most obnoxious present. (He seems as tapped into the Unified Field as David Lynch.)

Weerasethakul continues to spin tales close to his heart in his own unique, quiet language. Minimal gestures - a hand on a shoulder; a fish breaking the surface of a water - land with volumes of emotion. The natural world comes to life in colors that simply don't exist in any other film. Weerasethakul poignantly chose to shoot Uncle Boonmee on film (suggesting that a tale that confronts mortality should be shot on celluloid, a dying medium), but the end result is tumescent with lifeforce, and as hypnotized as one becomes watching it one can't help but feel uplifted by its spirit and warmth.

The film is the culmination of a years-long project centering on the town of Nabua near the Laotian border. Phantoms of Nabua, a short film Weerasethakul shot earlier as part of the project, can be viewed here.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not as enthusiastic about it as you are, though I was not in the proper mind to see it. (I fell asleep for short spells and was otherwise grumpy.) I guess my issue is that he seems to be repeating himself. The subject matter and style here felt like Tropical Malady meets Syndromes, but it didn't have the audacity of the latter or the intensity of the former. It felt like a weaker hodgepodge of both, though the waterfall scene absolutely blew me away. Perhaps I need another screening.