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Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

March 15, 2011

8/10 Family Ties

As strange and intriguing as its weird-ass title.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is about a farmer in Thailand whose nephew and sister-in-law come to take care of him since his bum kidney is on the way out. Not long after they arrive, they are greeted by the spirits of the farmer’s deceased wife and lost son who has turned into monkey ghost because it just so happened that he mated with a monkey ghost. As the farmer’s health deteriorates, he comes to terms with the karma of his past that has come full circle and makes the most of the time he has left with those who matter most to him.

Any other day, if someone asked me to go a see a movie called Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, chances are I’d tell them to put down the doobie and walk away. With that being said, I don’t know how I got my mom to tag along with me on this one, but I guess starting out sentences with “It won the Palm d’Or at Cannes last year!” is a good way to get folks on the bandwagon. Not sure what other movies this beat out for that coveted title, but if there’s anything to be said about this sucker, it’s definitely memorable.

But let’s not mince words here, because this is an odd one. Probably goes without saying after all that business about monkey ghosts and whatnot, but somehow, all of that is just part of the appeal. It’s written and directed by one Apichatpong Weerasethakul (pretty sure he’s Irish) and I’m not really sure what to say about him or this movie or where to even begin because I still don’t really know what to make of it.

In short, experiencing this movie is…something.

It doesn’t follow any real set structure, it’s not very big on providing explanations even though a couple here and probably would have been nice, and it very much moves to the beat of its own drum. I mean, there’s a point where the plot completely cuts away from the main story line to give us a ten-minute tale about an aging princess who bangs a talking catfish, then it cuts back to the main story line and that whole segue is never mentioned again. Yeah, there’s a lot of that, but the effect is surprisingly more pleasant than it is head-scratchingly bizarre.

For one, the pacing here is mighty slow, but it ends up feeling more like a meditation than a snoozefest. Under different circumstances, I think this aspect would have been a major weak point, but I liked the way the camera spends so much time centered on the gorgeous scenery of Thailand or on quiet moments between characters since it complements the overall tone of the movie and what it has to say.

It’s like David Lynch mixed with Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, and as much as I can’t explain a lot of what happens here, I couldn’t help but find it totally engrossing. I wouldn’t call it accessible, but I would call it inviting. There isn’t a negative bone in this movie’s body, Uncle Boonmee himself is a wonderful little guy with a temperament that never drops below glass-completely-full and an outlook on life that just puts you at ease, and when all is said and done, it’s just really nice. Even when ghosts start walking amongst the living and Chewbacca’s evil shadow shows up for dinner, it works because that’s simply the kind of story this is.

Folks, you just don’t see movies that operate on this kind of spiritual and ethereal level. It’s about living with death, life after death, the soul, the body, the relationship between man and nature, and a bunch of other stuff that you can read into to your heart’s content. And I dig that, it’s a breath of fresh air to find a movie that’s so focused on such universal and mysterious subjects that it in turn becomes a sort of mystery itself.

Geez, I wish I had more to say about this movie after thinking about it for three days straight, but it’s truly something that has to be seen to even border on comprehension. Take that any way you like, ’cause that’s the best I’ve got.

I’m still not sure if I actually liked this movie and I’m still not really sure what I was supposed to take away from it, but by the same token, that’s also why I gave it such a high score. Uncle Boonmee truly is a different slice of life the likes of which I’ve never come across in a film, and that counts for a lot. I hesitate to recommend this movie all willy-nilly because I doubt this is everyone’s cup of tea, but sometimes you don’t need to understand a movie to appreciate how unique and inspired it is. Just gotta go with the flow, see where it takes ya’, and get to talkin’ about what the hell it all means.

My mom: what a trooper.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2011 12:19 am

    I saw this a couple weeks ago and have no idea what to write about it. I liked what you said about it being more of a meditation that a snooze fest, but still not knowing what to make of it. It’s a super intriguing film, but not for the casual filmgoer.

    • March 15, 2011 12:46 pm

      So intriguing and so not for anyone just looking for two hours of escapism. Bizarro stuff, but just wild in its own little way, too. Glad you dug it, man.

  2. March 15, 2011 12:25 am

    I was absorbed by this strangely hypnotic, mesmerizing cinematic experience. I really admired how different it was. Some stunning cinematography! Nice review!

    • March 15, 2011 12:47 pm

      Thanks! The way it was just so different from absolutely everything else I’ve ever seen is what did it for me as well. Easy movie to get swept up in even if it’s all Greek by the end.

  3. Hal permalink
    March 15, 2011 2:03 am

    Look at you, getting all arthouse on us!

    I actually saw this one last week too. It’s definitely a weird one, but I’m glad I saw it. It’s less frustrating when you stop trying to “figure it out” and just go with the ride (or at least that’s what I remind myself).

    Nice review.

    • March 15, 2011 12:48 pm

      Haha. Some way to follow up Battle: LA, huh?

      Glad I saw it too and that’s the perfect mindset to go in with. Would probably crash and burn for an audience otherwise.

  4. March 15, 2011 4:27 am

    Nice review, I know exactly what you mean about whether or not you actually liked the film. The experience of actually watching it, absorbing it makes it worth seeing alone. I thought the ending was incredibly bleak – after all the magic we’ve had, modern day life really is pretty crap!

    • March 15, 2011 12:50 pm

      Thanks! Man, I didn’t even know what to think of that ending. Sounds as good as anything I can come up with, stopped asking questions pretty early on anyway. Definitely more interesting that real life though, I’ll give you that.

  5. March 15, 2011 1:38 pm

    Going to check this out soon, I’m hopin it will live up to the hype.

  6. Grace permalink
    April 13, 2011 4:45 pm

    Oh yes, The Emperor’s New Clothes are very beautiful! There is no elephant sitting in the living room.
    In other words, this movie is bunk. It means nothing. It is not artistic. It is ridiculous. All these critics have jumped on the bandwagon to approve of this hideous creation. It is junk (and I am educated in the humanities. I wonder if the critics who approved of this are!)

    • May 2, 2011 4:46 pm

      Geez. That’s some hate, yo, and from a humanities student no less. Well, different strokes for different folks. Shibby dibby.

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