Written & Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, perhaps more easily known as “Joe”, is one of world cinema’s most renowned directors currently and his recent win at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival for the Palme D’Or for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives only adds to his mystique and reputation. Prior to sitting down and watching the award winning film, I had seen three of Joe’s other films, each one quite different. Blissfully Yours, Syndromes and a Century, and Tropical Malady are perhaps his best known films. There is no denying Joe has a magical touch and a unique view of both cinema and the world. As a Thai filmmaker he is easily the most distinctive, but my prior experience has been that of trials and tribulations, as I struggled through his deeply reflective and patient narratives.
Uncle Boonmee is on his deathbed, so his nephew and sister-in-law have come to look after him as he makes his transition to death. Upon visiting Uncle Boonmee, they begin to realize the special life he has lived as they are visited by his late wife and his missing son at the dinner table one night. From there we are treated to the mythical, fantastical stories of Uncle Boonmee’s previous lives here in this world. Some are as animals, like a catfish. The film is full of the patient, reflective themes that Joe has mastered.
This is easily Joe’s most ambitious film to date that I have seen and that comes from the very weighty themes which he tackles, but also the manner in which he deals with them. His style remains intact as he creates a very reserved mood throughout the film which allows the deeply spiritual story to simply wash over the audience. Eastern religion is something that has always interested me and fascinated me mostly because it is much more philosophically based than the Western religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity which focus on very specific figures throughout history.
However, the film is very trying on the patience of even the most patient. It is slow moving with minimal dialogue and long shots with no dialogue, which are strong in capturing the mood and thoughts of the characters on screen, but when it happens as often as it does in this film it just becomes too much to concentrate on. There are some brilliant cinematic moments scattered throughout the film, like the cave sequence and the scene at the dinner table, which are both full of beautiful imagery and great at realizing the story being told. But the rest of the film was too trying for my tastes.
I have come to respect Joe as a director for his distinctive and impressive style of storytelling. He deals with some really interesting concepts and themes, but the fact remains that I have not been won over by any of his films. They all have tested my concentration and ability to pay attention throughout the entire runtime. There is no doubt in my mind that he is a great director from what I have seen, but it is certainly more of a respect thing than anything else. His style just is not for me, which is surprising because I love other slow, reflective style films, much like those of American filmmaker Terrence Malick. I can’t quite put my finger on why his films don’t win me over like they seem like they should, they just don’t.