Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Thailand/UK/France/Germany/Spain/Netherlands; 114 min.)


directed by:
Apichatpong Weerasethakul
starring: Thanapat Saisaymar; Jenjira Pongpas; Sakda Kaewbuadee; Natthakarn Aphaiwonk
Loong Boonmee raleuk chat
 
Ibad says:  "UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES, which enchanted Tim Burton's jury this year to a Palme D'Or win at this year's Cannes Film Festival, is a mystifying and exquisite crowning jewel on Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's young career so far. From the opening long take of a water buffalo immersed in the luscious Thai forests, you get the sense that Weerasethakul's whole world is very much alive. Each leaf in his frame, to quote Pocahontas, has a life, has a spirit, has a name.

"When describing her experience viewing director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's first festival sensation, TROPICAL MALADY, Tilda Swinton once said: 'I actually remember rubbing my eyes with my fists...convinced, for one split second, that I fallen asleep, that only my unconscious could have come up with such a texture of sensation.' Certainly dreamlike, Weerasethakul's sensory cinema is a very pure and transportative one; you feel very much apart of the Thai jungles. You feel yourself in its waters. Trapped in its caves.

"We follow Uncle Boonmee in his twilight days with the utmost passion. His wife returns to him and her sister he lives with in the form of a ghost at the dinner table. The way he had missed his beloved wife for so long is heartbreaking to see play out on the screen. His son walks up in the form of some sort of monkey-ghost. Weerasethakul modeled him after the almost campy Thai television of his childhood where these sorts of figures were clearly men in monkey costumes, but it doesn't play nearly as cheaply in appearance or theme. We follow one of Boonmee's recollections as a catfish who had once made love to a human princess. I guarantee you that you will never see such a sequence in film made so naturally, made to seem so ordinary, and so believable. Weerasethakul's ode to Thai folklore never comes across as the least bit absurd or hard to take seriously.

"We see Uncle Boonmee predicting a future life in Thailand, shot very reminiscently of   
LA JETÉE's nightmarish account of a similar future, ruled by a thought-controlling military and the more fashionable people turning away from the natural life of peace in the forests we have lived with the character throughout the film in favor of a crueler life of modernity in fashion and technology. Once Uncle Boonmee passes, we see a life without him where people are glued to their TV sets and obsessed with counting money.

"The film is a floating world of fleeting beauty. A quiet meditation of a land past, present and future. Alive with the sounds of insects, of night, of rustling leaves. The beautiful cinematography can capture the richness of tress, the pristine water or the monotony of manmade walls at any given moment. It's a stunning achievement. 5 cats"

Thom says:  "I wish I had the time to write as many insightful reviews as Jay but I couldn't let this one pass. The first time I saw a film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul was back in 2005 with TROPICAL MELODY which ended up in my TOP 10 of that year. I went back and saw his earlier films MYSTERIOUS OBJECT AT NOON & BLISSFULLY YOURS & in 2006 along came SYNDROMES & A CENTURY which also was a TOP 10 for its year I was already considering Weerasethakul for a spot in my TOP 10 living directors & was greatly anticipating his next feature. When UNCLE BOONMEE was acclaimed as the best at Cannes (Palme d'Or) & the Asian Best Film of the year I was truly all set & rushed out to see it the day it opened. Well after this great work-of-art it's easy to see why he was rated the best of the 'new' directors by Film Comment & figured heavily in TIFF's 50 BEST FILMS of the past 10 years with SYNDROMES grabbing the coveted #1 spot, TROPICAL MALADY placing at #6 & BLISSFULLY YOURS ranked at #13. WOW!!! And yet, his following in this country is woefully week. It was every bit as fantastic as I'd hoped & I can't wait to see it again. I feel Apichatpong Weerasethakul is at the apex of revolutionary film art in the early days of the new century & along with such directors as Ming-liang Tsai & Kar Wai Wong they are creating a new landscape of film brilliance. It's being called the 'contemporary contemplative' movement. The story is largely about Uncle Boonmee being from home from hospital, about to die. With, sound, imagery, & story Weerasethakul creates a world of strange importance, and he makes the extraordinary, the spiritual, & the mystical into a real fabric of sensuous reality. The film shoots off in various directions and are just what the title suggests. A running character is the 'Monkey Ghost' a creature with laser-red eyes and finally we see it is a man in a hairy suit. But in his ability to make the bizarre commonplace he transforms scene after scene. He has always had a master approach to sound, but excels in this film. Near the end Bonnmee and two other characters travel slowly through a dense forest (a Weerasethakul staple and come across a mysterious cave. I hesitate to even attempt to what transpires in this miraculous film but I'd imagine that every one will have their own interpretation. BEST-IN-SHOW!!  Loved the water buffalo! I follow his call and his vision.  5 cats"

Diane says:  "Thank you, Ibad and Thom, for writing reviews that encouraged me to see this Thai film, first I've seen by this director (my loss!). Thesound is outstanding, as is the cinematography in the forests. The relationship between the dying Boonmee and his dead wife--and the beginning of their exploration of the afterlife together--is heart-rending. A nice exercise in accepting phantasmagorical things with equanimity. I was disappointed in the last section, in which Boonmee's nephew takes center stage, but must remember that this film is about 'Uncle' Boonmee. I will miss him. 4 cats"

Chris says:  "Few would disagree that Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul is one of the more original contemporary filmmakers, but you could give that same distinction to everyone from Pedro Almodovar to Kevin Smith.  What makes Weerasethakul a real visionary is more complicated.  His movies are challenging but not inaccessible or avant garde.  He often eschews narrative logic for a purely evocative effect. He emphasizes the textures of one’s environment over whatever drama is playing out in the foreground.  He’s a kindred spirit to Tsai Ming-Liang, only even slower and with less slapstick.
 
"All of these elements are present in Weerasethakul’s fifth feature: a playful, poetic rumination on death and how life itself isn’t necessarily so linear.  The titular character senses his own death is near, so he recounts his past lives (or vessels for his soul) as various other creatures for his sister-in-law and her son, who have come to take care of him. However, they’re soon joined by his wife (who suddenly appears after having been dead for twenty years) and their long lost son, who reappears in the guise of a 'monkey ghost,' a hairy, simian-like creature with tiny glowing red eyes that could have stepped out of a B-grade ‘70s horror flick.
 
"At this point, you either simply accept what’s happening in the film or you don’t.  However, Weerasethakul mixes fantasy and reality together so fluidly that one comes to view both as interchangeable while still recognizing the former’s otherworldliness. Meanwhile, the film’s sound design builds to a masterful crescendo as the characters leave Uncle Boonmee’s home and partake in a spiritual journey of sorts deep into the woods: an endless mass of crickets has the same pull as sculpted, low-hum ambient noise, and the wind rustling through an extended take of the serene countryside stands in for a significant rite of passage.
 
"Of course, all of this could seem unbearably, artfully pretentious if Weerasethakul’s sense of humor wasn’t present throughout.  In addition to the dead mother asking her long-lost monkey ghost son why he’s grown his hair so long and a bout of catfish-on-woman sex, there is the film’s final scene which I’m still trying to wrap my head around.  It throws a wrench (albeit not a monkey one) into what we’ve already seen, yet it’s so whimsical and unexpected (and scored to such an engaging pop song) that I was delightfully (rather than irritatingly) perplexed. 5 cats"