Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010)

18Oct10

Thanapat Saisaymar (Boonmee), Jenjira Pongpas (Jen), Sakda Kaewbuadee (Tong). Screenplay by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Running time: 114 minutes.

What a completely impenetrable bitch of a film. I have seen many weird pieces of cinema in my time, from Last Year In Marienbad to Synecdoche, New York, but nothing has alienated me quite like Uncle Boonmee managed to. Who sits on the Jury at Cannes that awarded this piece of tripe the Palme d’Or? It’s a serious question. The people that chose to reward this film with anything must have been complete and utter jokers. It’s rubbish like this that gives arthouse cinema a bad name. Absolutely no amount of appreciation of Buddhist thought, Thai custom or understanding of avant-garde could prepare you for this ‘film.’ It’s just absolutely bonkers and for all the wrong reasons. The script can’t be much longer than ten pages, and the soundtrack and story are practically non-existent.

What can you possibly say about a film that gives you a family dinner turning into an encounter with a monkey spirit, who turns up casually claiming to be Boonmee’s son reincarnated – something he accepts with relative ease. How are you supposed to react to a scene showing a woman having underwater sex with a catfish in the middle of Thailand’s wilderness? This film is just a series of balmy accounts of past lives, and not a single one of them comes anywhere close to being comprehensible.

Parisian critics were appalled despite the Cannes endorsement, and rightly so. I saw this yesterday at the London Film Festival (consider for a second what type of audience this means I sat amongst; everyone had paid £17.50 for this rare, very early West End screening) and yet the couple infront of me still decided to walk out around half way through. This really does speak volumes.

‘Apichatpong,’ or ‘Joe’ as he likes to be called over here, said before the film started that he had just flown over from Spain, and there they had considered his film to be a ‘rock and roll’ movie. I’m not quite sure what that means, but intuitively the description is pretty damn absurd. He’s got to be having a laugh here. I decided early on that if the audience clapped at the end – as it is common for viewers to do at film festivals – then I had been sitting amongst a bunch of phonies. Fortunately, they declined that expected nicety. The joke was on Cannes, but it looks like very few others are falling for it.

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3 Responses to “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010)”

  1. I’ve yet to see this, but every other one of Apichatpong’s films is a genuine work of genius. Perhaps more than any other director working today, he is a poet, and shows us how little cinema usually does and how much it could still do. Watch ‘Syndromes and a Century’ and ‘Tropical Malady’. If you still don’t get it after that, there’s not a lot I can for you…

    When people walk out of the cinema, why blame the film?


  1. 1 Another Year (Mike Leigh, 2010) « jacob williamson | thoughts on film
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