Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sydney Film Festival: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

The winner of the Cannes Palme d’Or, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s mystical tale Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a beautifully crafted curio. Pivoting around the eponymous Uncle (Thanapat Saisaymar), who is slowly succumbing to kidney failure, the film journeys to fantastical places and dream like states in what seems tantamount to an evocative eulogy. Uncle Boonmee calls his sister-in-law Jen (Jenjira Pongpas) to his rural deathbed, hoping she will take over his farm. Such an earthly request is surmounted by the spiritual arrival of Boonmee’s deceased wife and son, the latter resembling a Wookie, though he announces he is a monkey spirit. Boonmee and Jen’s lack of surprise and calm acceptance of these arrivals may mark the first schism between Weerasethakul’s characters and his audience, for what follows is yet more opaque flights of fancy, albeit ones which are gorgeously cinematic.

Indeed in watching the film, it feels like layers of meaning are lost for those unfamiliar with Thai death rites and spiritual ties. And yet for a film steeped in such symbolism, it somehow manages not to alienate, instead it lulls its audience into quiet contemplation though transfixing Thai countryside and the benign marvel of witnessing Boonmee’s fantastical past lives. Perhaps the most provocative of these is a sexual encounter between a lonely, facially scarred princess and catfish. The film’s unhurried pace further confirms its occupation in the fluid space between the living and the dead. It’s an odd experience, but a magical one as well.

Published by Street Press Australia
Australian release date (theatrical): TBA

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