Film Review: Uncle Boonmee

Posted on: 27 October 2010 by Alexander Hay

Life, death and reincarnation are the issues examined by Thai film maker Apichatpong Weerasethakal’s mysterious and moving Cannes 2010 Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (released in the UK on November 19).

Suffering from acute kidney failure, Uncle Boonmee, a farmer, has chosen to spend his final days surrounded by his loved ones in the countryside. Surprisingly the ghost of his deceased wife appears to care for him, and his long lost son returns home in non-human form. Contemplating the reasons for his illness, Boonmee treks through the jungle with his family to a mysterious hilltop cave – the birthplace of his first life.

The film, which is laced with a quirky, tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, has distinctive shifts of tone and style. Sometimes it is almost comic and ironic, at other times serious and effecting. In fact, it operates very much like a stream of consciousness drifting from one memory to another. Its story is very personal to the director: Boonmee is an amalgam of Apichatpong himself, his late father and a real-life man, whose unusual talent for recalling past lives, human and animal, was recorded by a monk. It is also an idiosyncratic reflection on film history, with each segment echoing the tone and form of a particular kind of movie making, including, of course, the Thai cinema Apichatpong grew up with.

“I believe in the transmigration of souls between humans, plants, animals and ghosts”, Apichatpong commented. “Uncle Boonmee’s story shows the relationship between man and animal and at the same time destroys the line dividing them. When the events are represented through cinema, they become shared memories of the cast, the crew and the public”.

Apichatpong draws sincere, naturalistic performances from Thanapet Saisaymar as Boonmee, Natthakarn Aphalwonk as his late wife, and Geerasak Kulhong as his late son, both of whom return in spirit form to share his last days.

I found the film subtle, absorbing, a touch eccentric, but above all a genuine original.

By Laurence Green

Released by New Wave Films.
Tel: 020 3178 7095

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Alexander Hay

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