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Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Lung Boonmee raluek chat)


Stars: Thanapat Saisaymar, Jenjira Pongpas, Sakda Kaewbuadee, Natthakarn Aphaiwonk, Geerasak Kulhong, Kanokporn Thongaram, Samud Kugasang, Wallapa Mongkolprasert, Sumit Suebsee, Vien Pimdee.

Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Thai producer-writer-director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s doubtless sensitive but for me increasingly twee drama opens with a seemingly never-ending shot of a bull in a field. And for those who do not necessarily believe it to be a cinematic truth that a film with subtitles must of necessity be a work of art, ‘a load of intellectual bull’ is what follows. Naturally that’s a crass evaluation – the film has been greeted ecstatically by those reviewers who would be expected to greet it ecstatically and so naturally it won the Palme d’Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

And the plot?

I admit I’m indebted to the production notes conveniently supplied to film critics since otherwise I’d end up writing thousands of words and still have made little overall sense since among the film’s more arcane elements is a sequence involving a human having sex with an overly enthusiastic catfish without being able really to explain the eclectic narrative. Essentially (thanks to the production notes) I can tell you the titular character is dying of kidney failure and has chosen to spend his last days with his loved ones in the countryside. There he’s joined by the spirit of his dead wife while his lost son appears as a kind of midget red-eyed monkey monster, leaving Uncle Boonmee to trek ‘through the jungle with his family to a mysterious hilltop place – the birthplace of his first life”.

Watching the mélange of arty shots and non-narrative sequences that comprise the film I began to believe my own first life would end well before the film did. Obviously I’m wrong – too many other reviewers have claimed the film, which says Weerasethakul, who “believes in the transmigration of souls between humans, plants, animals and ghosts” and, “shows the relationship between man and animal and at the same time destroys the line dividing them” - to be a masterpiece.

On the credit side, the cinematography is ravishing, the acting excellent and no scene is truncated before its full value (whatever that may be) has been squeezed out.

Clearly I must be some kind of celluloid philistine not to have been wafted away on so magnificent and wondrous a cinematic magic carpet. And equally obviously in the face of the tsunami of praise the film has generated, I must be wrong. But in the final analysis, I might have enjoyed myself more seeing how many words I could make out of the director’s name than fighting to become involved in Weerasethakul’s unique imagery and elliptical storytelling.

Alan Frank

U.K.-Thailand-France-Germany-Spain 2010. UK Distributor: New Wave Films. Colour.
113 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 19 Nov 2010