Monday, 3 January 2011

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives - Review

If Uncle Boonmee had been no more than an Asian animated film, then it may have passed most audiences and critics by unnoticed, with a lot of its outlandish imagery and playful dialogue certainly not out of place sitting next to a Hayao Miyazaki film for Studio Ghibli. However, because it was live action it resulted in one of the most imaginative and visually captivating films of recent memory - which includes peculiar primate creatures, with glowing red eyes and seductive, talking catfish (seriously...).

Having swooned everyone at the Cannes Film Festival last year, picking up the coveted Palm d'Or, Uncle Boonmee tells the beautiful tale of a man's final few days as he's visited by the ghosts of his past and encounters some genuinely strange out of body experiences. With warm and vivid camera work the film is a life enriching fantasy which is, at times, disorientating but ultimately very rewarding. Its opening scene involving the camera following the movements of a lost bull with a mysterious stranger watching in the background is certainly one of the most striking and abstract scenes I've witnessed in a film for quite sometime.

I won't even pretend to know anything about the actors featured in the films - says more about my Western ignorance than it does about the actors' profiles, let me assure you - but the performance of Thanapat Saisaymar as the title character was simply glorious. Not a twisted bitter old man cursing his illness and fearing the unknown but an admirable and reflective soul who accepts his aliment and soughs to gain more understanding, with the help of his deceased son and wife, into why perhaps this had came to be.

This isn't to say the film will be for everyone, as more casual cinema goers may be turned off by the long, slow burning scenes with very minimal dialogue, and may get lost in some of the more mystifying and spiritual aspects of the narrative. Similar in approach to last month's excellent Of Gods and Men, the film relies on the natural sounds of the characters' surroundings rather than a specific score carried throughout the film, which gives the story a far more serene and peaceful atmosphere.

Still being a relative novice to the remarkable array of world cinema on offer, I ashamed to say this is my first experience of director, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's work but would certainly hope it is not my last.

Final Thoughts
Bewildering, humorous, fantastical, heart-warming and truly imaginative. Uncle Boonmee is all this and more. Apichatpong Weerasethakul does a beautiful job creating a magical piece of cinema which utilises many classical techniques arguably lost in the modern era, and over time the world will be all the more grateful for it. Though not the most accessible film ever likely to be released, like an ancient folk fairy tale, the story will undoubtedly become a more enriching experience upon more viewings and greater understanding.


Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is currently showing in Belfast's Queen's Film Theatre now.

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