Discover more from (All (Parentheses))
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Time Out New York Project: Issue #802, February 24-March 9, 2011
Dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul. 2010. N/R. 114mins. In Thai, with subtitles. Thanapat Saisaymar, Jenjira Pongpas, Sakda Kaewbuadee, Natthakarn Aphaiwonk.
Let’s get lost. That’s the best state of mind in which to enter Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s transporting feature — the winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2010. The title tells you all you really need to know, but here’s a bit more grounding: Thai farmer Uncle Boonmee (Saisaymar) is dying, and in his final days, he’s visited by relatives living and deceased. Boonmee’s sister, Jen (Pongpas), and his nephew, Tong (Kaewbuadee), are the mortals, while Boonmee’s wife, Huay (Aphaiwonk), and a red-eyed monkey man claiming to be his long-lost son, Boonsong, are representatives of the spirit world. They all meet in a terrific early scene around the dinner table, as Huay slowly fades into being and Boonsong enters as if he had just left home hours (and not years) before. If your response to these bewitching occurrences is similar to Tong’s (he cracks the biggest, most ingratiatingly goofy grin imaginable), then you’re definitely on the film’s wavelength.
The tone is consistently playful, especially when Weerasethakul moves away from his lead character for some thrillingly mythopoetic asides: an ox that runs into a forest as if beckoned by the gods; a deformed princess who mates with a talking catfish. But there’s a deadly serious undercurrent to the fantasy — a still-photo montage of soldiers horsing around with a bigfootlike beast is particularly surreal and disturbing — so the film never feels like an indulgent lark. Even when Weerasethakul takes you down some impenetrable paths (the transmigratory ending is sure to inspire numerous head scratches), what you see and hear always seems perfectly natural, even if you can’t exactly say why. Who needs words when you have cinema?—Keith Uhlich