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November 14, 2010

Starz Denver Film Festival 2010 - Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Uncle Boonmee.jpg

Loong Boonmee raleuk chat
Apichatpong Weerasethakul - 2010
Strand Releasing 35mm film

I had made a point of seeing Uncle Boonmee theatrically while I had the opportunity. I would recommend the same to others. There are too many shots in the film that need to be seen on the big screen, the bigger, the better, to be understood.

One of the first shots is of a water buffalo, barely visible in the distance. A later shot in this first sequence of the loose water buffalo is of the animal barely visible, walking through the foliage. Throughout the film, Apichatpong uses extreme long shots so that the characters are in a sense, lost within nature. The themes of man, nature and animism are continuations explored in Tropical Malady, although it is more explicit in this film.

There is also a fantastic scene that takes place in a cave. Boonmee and two others go exploring in a cave for reasons only understood by Boonmee. They go at night, carrying a lantern for illumination. At one point, the lantern is lowered enough so that the walls of the cave a lit up just enough to resemble an extremely starry sky. This is a magical moment that no amount of computer generated special effects could ever match.

This is a contemplative film as has been stated before. What isn't discussed much is Apichatpong's sense of humor. The ape like creatures that appear with laser red eyes resemble variations of Chewbacca from Star Wars. One of the creatures is the reincarnation of Boonmee's late son. Introduced by Boonmee, while sitting at the family's outdoor dinner table, a worker protests, stating, "But that's a monkey". No matter. Family is family, whether it's a humanoid creature or a ghost.

I can't pretend to fully understand of of what Apichatpong was trying to relay in Uncle Boonmee. What I know and understand about Thailand and Thai culture fits into a thimble. There are political references that got by me. I have only the most general idea about some of the general culture of Northeastern Thailand, a culture that is rooted more deeply in geographic terms rather than any artificially set borders. When the film was introduced at the Starz Denver Film Festival, the person doing the introduction couched Uncle Boonmee in terms of a horror movie because of the presence of ghosts. I think I understand what he was trying to say, although it might have been expressed more accurately. My own lesson from briefly living in Thailand is that ghosts are not necessarily to be feared, you just have to learn how to live with them.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 14, 2010 05:27 PM


It really does need to be experienced on the big screen, doesn't it? I haven't seen humans swallowed up inside nature so exquisitely since viewing Tarkovsky, or Malick's THE THIN RED LINE.

I like what you said at the end of your review, and I think that is where a large dollop of delight and pleasure can be had viewing this film - the supernatural is treated as a real and normal part of everyday experience. A deceased wife re-appears at the dinner table? No problem. A long-lost son returns as a hairy Chewbacc-alike? Sure, have we got enough plates here?

Weerasethakul's films are a fantastic example of cinema as an extra-sensory and even paranormal experience. As the ending of the film seems to show, our life may be composed of a multitude of realities and worlds, and this is not necessarily terrifying or chilling, but perfectly natural.

Cheers for your post, I enjoyed reading it.

PS I wrote a brief little piece on this film when I saw it here in Melbourne a couple of months back, it's here if you want to check it out.

Posted by: Michael C at November 15, 2010 05:23 AM