Apichatpong Weerasethakul is not an easy name to pronounce (he goes by “Joe” for short), and his latest film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, is quite a mouthful too—but “Joe’s” film won the prestigious Palme d’Or Award at the most recent Cannes Film Festival. The Thai director began making short films in 1993, releasing his first feature length film, Mysterious Object at Noon, in 2000. But it wasn’t until his 2002 film Blissfully Yours won him the Un Certain Regard prize at the Cannes Film Festival that film enthusiasts around the world starting to learn his name rather than referring to him as “the Thai director with the long name.”
Five years ago, Weerasethakul came to the Walker Art Center to participate in a Regis dialogue and a retrospective, so it should surprise no one that the Walker Art Center will be screening Uncle Boonmee. It’s only screening twice; though Uncle Boonmee is a hard film to describe, it is a beautiful and thought-provoking one and should be a must-see for all Twin Cities cinephiles. I caught Uncle Boonmee in Chicago at their film festival this past October and it’s proved hard to get out of my head.
Visual stunning to say the least, the film depicts Uncle Boonmee who slowly dying; since his return home to be with his family, he’s been having visions, or odd sightings: one that might be interpreted as being his dead wife appearing in a ghostly form and another as bing of his long-lost son, who returns in a beast-creature form with piercing red dangerous eyes. As Boonmee begins to travel through his jungle land, he comes upon many other sightings that could be imagined or real: Weerasethakul’s film is never easy to figure out. Each change of scenery becomes a different layer of the story and a different structure all together—just listening to the leaves and trees blow and sway is haunting. The film blends a non-linear narrative, a dazzling constructed silent homage played out in a naturalistic setting, a documentary which could contain an important time capsule, and a moving fantasy of life and death all in under two hours.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a rare film these days—American or foreign: it challenges viewers to forget about traditional storytelling methods. Trying to figure out the entire film might give you a severe migraine, but to let the film slip into your mind and take hold of your imagination is more powerful than most narratives that hand you everything up front, without leaving much mystery.
As an added bonus, on Thursday, February 24, the Walker will also be screening Weerasethakul’s previous film—and another Minnesota premiere—Syndromes and a Century for free.
Image courtesy Walker Art Center