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This was a hard film to rate. It pains me not to have fallen in love
with it. Here, then, are some scattered thoughts of my failed romance.
It started with a very sour first date. It also ended there.
I went in looking to see a film that won the Golden Palm at Cannes 2010. Knowing this fact, and having seen the trailer, I went to the theater expecting to see an art house piece with Oriental metaphysical overtones. What I saw was, to be sure, a decisively original and at times hauntingly beautiful film, but one that I found an absolute bore: a film that, to me, seemed a tiresome, dysfunctional, inchoate potpourri of disjunct elements that never quite flowed together.
Perhaps false expectations can ruin a movie. Or, perhaps, let me hazard the unlikely suggestion, there is nothing here to salvage? For let me be clear: I wanted to like this film, I really did. It is important to reward originality and craftsmanship, always. And I respect the film (or at least its intentions). But the fact remains (here comes the unavoidable, brutal, decisive fact), I didn't like it. I only liked a few scenes here and there. Some parts I hated, absolutely loathed. Despite a few glimmerings of genius - and an undoubted air of originality - it seems to be that Uncle Boonmee is a needlessly difficult, slow-paced and ultimately unsuccessful film... despite the fact that it gets to a great start and carries a lot of potential all the time. Perhaps the "elusive" quality mentioned by the high-praise reviewers is a mask behind which there is no greater coherence to be found. Perhaps the inchoate structure and the belaboured pacing are not marks of genius but amateurish vices committed in the name of some grand vision that shall forever remain out of our material reach. I fault this film not because of its weird themes or its occasional dream logic. On the contrary, I think that it may even be that the film wasn't weird enough or dreamy enough; perhaps this film's use of "magic realism" is a kind of materialistic trap that forces the movie into long, never-ending sequences of absolutely no consequence. The main vice of the film is its unadventurous reliance on fixed camera frames and boring, dragging shots. Editing between the scenes is tortuously snail-paced and almost morphine-mimicking in its soporific entailments.
Whatever the reason, the film feels too much jumbled together, like some heavy stone stuck in a spiritual limbo, or a unicorn eating a burger, or some such nonsense. Ironically, the main stumbling block for the film, if you ask me, is not its "artsiness", but its clumsy down-to-Earthness. The film seems to be grasping for some supreme realism and materialism underneath its spiritual, religious and metaphysical surface. But the result is a kind of Ken Loach of Buddhism: a boring materialism under the guise of animistic spiritualism. Just plain realism without a purpose: people doing boring stuff for boring reasons.
Or perhaps all this is wrong; perhaps all this analysis is useless. Perhaps we are back to false expectations again: I expected one thing and saw another. But who cares WHY I didn't like it? Surely all this is uninteresting? Well, perhaps, but let me say that my personal dilemma - how I wanted to love this film so much but ended up almost hating it - is an interesting story to tell, because this film has the potential to divide audiences totally, into "haters" and "praisers" - and very few lukewarm receivers in between. I definitely recommend this film to be seen, but I am not going to play the art house card, the usual cop-out: "I'm sure it's a masterpiece, I just didn't get it", and then give it a score of 8 or 9 despite having hated it myself, out of some duty-bound, deranged, depersonalized sense of professional duty or peer pressure to agree with everybody else, or - worse yet - pretend to love the film because of some unhealthy respect for the jury at Cannes or the snidely snobbish world film press. No, this would be a scandalous road to take. One must stand by one's convictions, and it is my personal conviction, based on one viewing, that here we have an ultimately pretty bad film: a failed exercise at grafting something sublime. Despite its undoubtedly pure and original intentions and beginnings, this film remains an overrated (soon to be over-venerated), perplexing, highly original turd - interesting but ultimately vacuous, like some of Buñuel's lesser works, or like Andy Warhol's art.
Whether I change my opinion after a second, or third, viewing remains to be seen. So, despite my dislike of the film's overall structure, I feel that this is an important film, and I can easily recommend it to all movie lovers. Everyone remotely interested in film should go and see, form their OWN opinion, of such a remarkable cinematic piece: a film that, despite its flaws and vices, is undoubtedly a creation of unique character and visionary qualities. Weerasethakul's directorial voice is loud and persistent, and its echo will surely be heard for many years to come across the lands - and cinema screens - the world over.
Now, let him only refine his voice a bit and convince us skeptics.
Whether my love for this film will grow, who knows. I'm preparing for the inevitable "second date" - the future second attempt at falling in love - with a strange expectation of more melancholy moods.
In order to appreciates the film, you have to understand that this
movie is not just a normal film where you can expects classical
narrative and plot. the directer not only have Buddhism as a
philosophical point of view but he also put a little bit of Thai
historical and political aspects in to the film.
In my opinion, the theme of this film is the man's struggle from human condition and transformation.
here are some few points I'd like to make concerning the film:
1. Man and Illusion
Before humankind, there was nature, which is pure and true. there are trees and wind and animals and so on. then there are man, which is basically another living specie. both animal and human have the same drive (sex, food, shelter etc.) the only different between man and animal is the ability to understand "sign" (read semiotic for more understanding) thus, human being created language, painting and symbol and so on. in other word, because our brain can perceived sign, so we can created ART. Art was created by man since the days of the cave man i.e. cave painting in Lascaux, France. (did you noticed that there are also cave paintings in the film?)
Man are proud that we are the only specie that can create and appreciate art, but what we didn't realized is that we are also the only specie that have the ability the created the illusion/lie/falsehood. Because of evolution, our unique brain can store memories and emotion, mix it up, and then created stuffs from it. because of this, the more time pass, the more we are far away from the truth; culture, law, politic, social status etc. are all MAN-MADE ILLUSION
2. Illusion of Dualism
It's seems like our perceived reality of "duality in nature" is embedded in our brain. we separated things into yin/yang mentality: day/night, good/bad, man/woman, live/death. one scene in particular shows how Boonmee kill the worms in his tamarind tree because "it's pest". then the next scene he show his sister the bee hive and seems very protective of it (he explain to his sister to avoid the larvae area on the plate). When he told his sister that his condition is the result of his karma from killing COMMUNIST and PEST, his sister replied "it's alright because you have good intention". When did killing other being can become good intention? Aren't communist human too? Aren't pests and bees are both insects?
3. The role of photography/Film, Memories, and Reality
Roland Barthes, in his book "Camera Lucinda", explained that a picture creates a falseness in the illusion of 'what is', where 'what was' would be a more accurate description. We can see a lot of scene involved photography; from the photos Boonmee shows to his dead wife as a proof of her funeral, the obsession of his son before he became a monkey, the final scene which Boonmee told the story about his dream etc. (this is an important scene, we will talk about it later)
4. In the playground, we created the rules, then we fought each other
In the film, we see peoples who of separated by this so-called man-made illusion, for example, different nationalities and spoken languages (Thai vs Laos), (Laos vs French) (Isan vs. Central Thai) etc. If you know little bit about Thai history, you will understand that the director also talk about the official vs the people / communism vs democracy(?).
in the final scene where Boonmee told the story about his dream, we see people wearing uniform. They are obviously appointed as "Soldier/Army". Then in the next photo we saw these soldiers captured the Monkeys Ghost. If you watch the film until this point, by now you should realized that the Monkey ghost is the allegory of the Communist.
then in the next photo, we saw that the soldier now taking their clothes off and play other kind of war game (throwing rock). The most funny thing is in the last photo, we saw 2 circles draw on the ground. In my opinion, the director suggest that countries, border dispute and war are nothing but a child's game.
5. Jāti: literally birth, but life is understood as starting at conception
the word "ชาติ" in Thai word derived from Sanskrit "Jāti", when translated to English it simply means "live". hence the name of the film "Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives" but in fact, the word Jati is the term in Buddhism which is not simply translate as "live" but have a lot more profound meaning.
By the way, I have the same feeling watching this film and Kubrick's 2001: Space Odyssey. Maybe because it also dealt with the theme of human condition and transformation, but this film is from the Eastern Philosophy point of view, of course.
This is one of the finest films I have seen all year and I am certain
that this film will stay with you for a long, long time.
Uncle Boonmee belongs to a category of films that harks back to the days of the invention of the moving image; when audience members were stunned in disbelief to see pictures and images in motion. The dawn of cinema came about as an experience and a work of art, much like a painting that people could experience and interpret how they liked. It is great to see film makers in todays commercial age still holding on to that vision and delivering the same.
The story, if there is one, is about the protagonist Boonmee who, close to the end of his current life, recollects how this one went by, with the help of ghosts and spirits of the forest where he lives. He has the ability to go back and forth into his past and future lives and relate his memories.
The movie, like other mood-pieces, can be fairly divisive with its audience. People who are not prepared for it will be left confounded whereas a small minority for whom the movie is made will leave the cinema stunned at the experience of it all. Therefore, this movie should rather be called an experience instead of a movie.
It is a little surprising that it won the Palm D'Or at Cannes, but not because it does not deserve it, but because it surprises me that the judges actually saw the beauty behind it. I say this one deserves the award more than the others did.
"Facing the jungle, the hills and vales, my past lives as an animal and
other beings rise up before me." This quote appears on the screen at
the start of the film and is indicative of what we'll see. Uncle
Boonmee is a farm owner in rural Thailand, up in the hills, and is
dying of kidney disease. In this period of his life visions of past
incarnations and other supernatural visions will appear to him. The
movie is staggeringly and outrageously beautiful, whether it's the way
light is falling on coloured mosquito nets in a darkened room or its
fractured scatter on a quartz cavern, or a vision of a palanquined
princess seen through veils, being carried through a susurrating forest
on a narrow track.
Apitchatpong "Joe" Weerasethakul's profound respect for life comes through well in the film. A recurring theme in his films are medical scenes with the long term ill. This is apparently because he grew up in a hospital, both his parents being doctors, and so he was very used to seeing sick people. The scenes where Boonmee requires dialysis are therefore very easy and compassionate. The whole movie has a great gentleness as regards mise-en-scene. You just can't get enough of this stuff, simple human scenes where people cuddle and care for one another. I like also how darker things are dealt with elliptically, for example a water buffalo at the start which breaks free of it's tether, but realises after wandering in the forest that it has nowhere to go and no role to play out. Docile it returns with the farmer who has gone out looking for it. I take that as being allegorical, with the dark hulk representing a human spirit in anguish, though the straight up incarnation viewpoint is obviously affecting too. One thing Joe said in his Q&A after the film is that he's very keen on individual interpretations of the film, of which he has seen many types, so come prepared and be a creative watcher! Boonmee believes he is ill because he killed too many communists and also too many bugs on his farm (via the use of chemical pesticides). So the idea of karma runs through the movie as well. A spirit in the movie talks about heaven and says that it's overrated, and that nothing ever happens there. I found that quite funny (the movie is frequently amusing), because I've always thought of the view of heaven by the Abrahamic religions as quite problematic, that none of them can really make sense of it, of how to frame life once life is gone, once the struggle is over.
There's homage in the film to the movies that Apitchatpong grew up watching, and understanding that this is intentional may help to explain some rather odd special effects. I think as well is helps to have a knowledge of Thai current events and a little history, especially with the final scenes.
Quite incredibly special, like Katie, who this is for.
Incoherent, unpredictable, mystical, yet undoubtedly original, "Uncle
Boonmee Who Call Recall His Past Lives" is a pseudo-profound cinematic
venture that reeks with allegory and mythical undertones. After
watching this film, I've come to a conclusion that it is certainly not
Despite its strange recurring themes about supernatural beings, spirits, Buddhist philosophy, karma, and reincarnation, it will bathe you with its gentleness and natural ornateness. It is intimate and surprisingly elegant, though not without its flaws.
Much like Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life," this motion picture lacks a linear narrative. It doesn't have what most of us would require from a movie: a plot. It heavily relies on hypnotic images captured into still wide frames that often drag longer than the easily-bored viewer can bear.
Then there's the noticeable absence of a musical score. You never get to hear music until the last few minutes of the film; all you'll hear besides the dialogues are crickets, the rustling of leaves, a water buffalo, the sound of an electric fly swatter zapping flying bugs, footsteps, a waterfall, and a talking catfish that made love to a disfigured princess.
Simple and ambitious; primitive and modern; eerie and comforting; senseless and driven; and dull and brilliant, this Thai film gives you a one-of-a-kind viewing experience. If you are into esoteric art films, this is something I would highly recommend. If you loathe movies that seem to have no meaning, then this is not for you.
Confounding as it is, "Uncle Boonmee..." is a film that doesn't need to be understood; it simply has to be FELT.
In a spirit haunted primordial jungle a joyful man is quietly,
harmlessly dying, though there is never less than a smile on his face.
The phases of his life play out before him. He is a farmer, a soldier, teller of myths, a husband, a father, an uncle. All these things quietly take their place in the narrative until the time when he must enter the underworld and pass on, guided by those who love him, both living and dead.
As Boonmee reflects on his life the arc of Thailand plays out as well. From contemplative agrarian past, through the time of fables, to the war with the communist and on into the disaffected, modernist future where we see ourselves seeing ourselves seeing ourselves.
All told with a minimal amount of fuss and effects, sewn together with threads of human intimacy, small gestures, a little sly humor and an over all meditative, knowing, measured rhythm.
There was another movie out last year that claimed it was about dreams... an American film. It made a lot of money but felt false and boisterous. Nothing about it felt like dreaming to me at all. This movie IS a dream. Everything about it feels like a dream. The difference between the two is the difference between spectacle and ritual. Uncle Boonmee is ritualized cinema in its purest form, ancient in its wisdom and avant-garde in its form.
This years Palme d'Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival, "Uncle Boonme
Who Can Recall His Past Lives" is the story of a man who is dying, and
as result recalls his past lives and is visited by ghosts and spirits.
There are ape spirit creatures who lives in the forest attracted by his sickness, he remembers being an ox and a princess, we watch a nurse drain some device the ailing Boonme wears fixed to his abdomen.
This was the first film I watched at 2010's AFI Film Festival in Los Angeles, and it was a start that was not followed easily. The film is strange but the words which feel most appropriate to the film are "gentle" and "mysterious".
Boonme's final days are spent with his sister and a nurse and their various supernatural guests. They eat dinner, watch films, look at photo albums, life unfolds but with an awareness of a mysterious shift coming. As death approaches, past lives and those human, animal, or other appear ever-shifting and inter connected, foreign but also familiar, like relatives returned after a long absence."Uncle Boonme" is the final part of a multi-platform project featuring art installations and short films called "The Primitive Installation", about Nabua, Thailand a region heavily occupied by the Thai army from the 60's to the 80's. "Uncle Boonme" believes his karma is the result of the part he played in the violence of the past.Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul ("Joe" for short) has created a landscape of shadowy jungles, intimate bedroom lighting, a haunting, funny, dreamy, and wise, rhythmic lamentation about modern life, it's "primitive" counter points, death, change, spirit-monkeys and all that good stuff.
Uncle Boonme is a fantasy as epic as Souleymane Cisse's "Yeelen", one luminous to look at and visually wander through, with several of "Tropical Malady's"' most hallucinatory moments, appearing strong early in it's opening movements and closing out on notes as elliptical as those of "Syndromes And A Century", and then there's the final scene compressed into a wonderful kind of epilogue involving a monk, that's the most audacious, fascinating, and best of it's sort since Wes Anderson's "Hotel Chevalier"."
Transformations and contrasts between the ancient and the modern flow into one another from electronic bug zappers to sex with talking cat- fish, primordial caves to karaoke bars. Dual and multiple-roles and states within a single whole, are a recurring theme in the film, so multiple meanings and readings being generated is little surprise. But though these thoughts rise up haunting us after viewing, the images of movement through Nabua's phantom jungles and Boonme's warm goodbyes are what we are left feeling and reeling with.
All modern worlds are built on ancient ones, all new things have within them older forms. "Uncle Boonme" is more informed by Buddhist notions of reincarnation, the idiosyncratic personality of it's creator and the psycho-geography of it's location, more than normal concerns about dramatic and character arc. In simpler words...an old man who is dying can recall his past lives.
The film is a matter of perception as complex and post- modernist/globalized as any experimental narrative in avant-garde-dom or as mystical and "primitive" as any ancient Sutra, based on the cultural inclinations and presuppositions you bring to the film. In any event, is to Joe's continued success and cinemas continued fortune that he so playfully and beautifully can challenge and delight these hybrid perceptions of ours as he does.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I watched this film today during its initial run at SFX Cinema
Emporium, Bangkok. The Thai film rating is 15+.
Rural North-East Thailand. Uncle Boonmee is dying. The film follows him for the last few days of his life. Between the time the audience first meets him and his death in a cave that seems to be full of stars, the ghosts of his wife and long lost son appear, the protagonists talk about life and love and many things in-between and a disfigured princess has an erotic encounter with a catfish. Long, drawn out scenes abound. The surround sound keeps you in the middle of rural Thailand.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul tells a story that doesn't ask or need to be understood. "Uncle Boonmee..." is an art film par excellence. Make what you want of it or don't. It does help if you are familiar with Thai customs and legends.
I wasn't bored for one minute. If you love art films this is essential viewing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If I didn't read Wikipedia, I wouldn't have known that "Uncle Boonme
who can recall his past lives" was the final installment of a
"multi-platform art project" called 'Primitive'. I also had no idea
(until I read the Wikipedia article) that a good part of the film was
shot in the northeast Isan region of Thailand, close to the Laotian
border. Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul has indicated the film
echoes other works in the 'Primitive' project which focus on the brutal
history of Isan (particularly a 1965 crackdown on Communist
sympathizers by the Thai Army). But Weerasethakul makes it clear that
his primary intent is not to make a political statement.
Before understanding what 'Uncle Boonme' is, one must examine where director Weerasethakul is coming from. He's really one of these guys who has a penchant for nostalgia. If he was an American filmmaker, he probably would be extolling the 'beauty' and 'originality' of old TV shows like 'Ozzie and Harriet'. That's why he shot 'Boonme' in 16 millimeter and wistfully bemoans the use of digital, which in his mind has led to the possible "extinction" of "cinema itself". He likes the old Thai TV shows, also shot in 16 millimeter, where the "lines were whispered to the actors, who mechanically repeated them". He also admires (believe it or not) the old movies where monsters were filmed in the dark so the audience can't see the 'cheaply made costumes'. Finally (and this is something I did not pick up at all in the theater), the film consists of six reels shot in six different cinematic styles. For example, one sequence features "the stiff acting and classical staging" of old Thai cinema.
Another penchant Weerasethakul owns up to is that he enjoys long takes. This was perhaps one of the most maddening aspects of Weerasethakul's film. Is it really necessary to hold the camera on a water buffalo, or someone driving a car or taking a shower for minutes on end? In essence, the director is more interested in indulging his own puerile whim than giving his audience a break.
As for the Boonme storyline, it's a meandering tale that lacks the basic ingredient of good drama: conflict! We're introduced to Boonme, an ex-soldier in the Thai army, who lives on a farm in the countryside, is on dialysis and dying of kidney failure. His sister-in-law, Auntie Jen, along with Tong, a nephew (one reviewer stated he was Boonme's cousin) come to visit. Bigoted Auntie Jen derides Boonme's housekeeper, Jai, for being an illegal immigrant from Laos but Boonme defends him, as he has been very helpful around the house, especially in regards to helping a dying ex-soldier.
While having dinner on the porch, the ghost of Boonme's deceased wife, Huay, makes an appearance and actually has a conversation with the three living family members. The presence of the unreal Huay undercuts the naturalistic scenes of Boonme coping with a terminal illness. Even more weird is the appearance of Boonme's son, Boonsong, now transformed into a 'ghost monkey' after running away from his family years ago and mating with a simian female. Boonsong is covered in monkey hair and also sports malevolent looking red eyes (reminiscent of Michael Jackson's red eyes in his classic video, 'Thriller').
Not much happens after the extraordinary appearance of Huay and Birdsong. There is a strange scene where an aging princess (with a complexion that looks like a bad case of acne) sees the reflection of herself as a beautiful woman in her younger days, in a pool of water. She's serenaded by a catfish while she floats in the water and she tells him that she realizes the younger image is only an illusion. The catfish (who is looking more and more like a stand-in for Uncle Boonme), tells her that he's convinced she's the same woman he loved in the past. The woman (who may represent Huay), insists the catfish's past love is also an illusion. Uncle Boonme has been redirected away from his past materialistic existence to accepting the idea that life is an illusion and one should accept death without fighting it.
Jen, Tong and Uncle Boonme make a trek to a cave where the uncle claims this is where he is born. He's now in full acceptance of death modehe declares he's neither human or animal, man or woman. Boonme dies in the cave and we're treated to an exotic Buddhist funeral.
The epilogue finds us back in the material world. Jen and her younger friend, Roong, are counting funeral contributions in what appears to be a hotel room as a newscast blares on the TV. Tong is now doing service as a monk but has no qualms about taking a shower as Auntie Jen scolds him for leaving the monastery and turning his back on his spiritual commitments.
Weerasethakul is a frustrating character. Despite being a well-meaning fellow, he is also self-indulgent. Not everyone will share his love for the creepy conventions of comic books and old Thai TV shows. What's more, when one strips away all the hocus-pocus, Weerasethakul's story is simply about a man who comes to realize that his illness was brought on by living a false life but now can accept death as he is now more attuned to the unending cycles of nature.
For me, Boonme is only worth watching to catch a glimpse of the natural wonders of Thailand and its vibrant culture. For others, since 'Uncle Boombe' has a mystical veneer, its simplistic message is mistaken for something much more profound. As a result, accolades are heaped upon it, including the Palme d'Or. Until the judges stop conning themselves, a teenage sensibility will reign supreme at such venerable film festivals as Cannes, for many years into the future.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I don't get why people would like this collection of movie shots. This
could have been a very good movie, one that shows the many lives the
old man has lived and seen.
In stead it is a incoherent pile of far too boring shots that are way too long and often should not have been included in the film. This feels like a book that has been literally transformed in a movie. Every line is captured and that is what makes this so bad. It's boring to the bone and most of all, most of the scenes don't make sense whatsoever. Even the end is like a totally new start.
The scene with the waterfall is one that is quite good in itself but yet again doesn't makes sense, it can't be placed within the storyline and thus fails to keep the attention.
I have taken 4 evenings to see this because I would literally fall asleep after watching more than 30 minutes of this. If the story was knit together, shots would have been cut back half and the director of this movie didn't pursue copying a book, this would have gotten quite a different review. Sadly this isn't the case...
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