sitting down to write up achiatpong weerasethakul’s uncle boonmee who can recall his past lives (loong boonmee raleuk chat), i ask myself: what do i do here? do i put on my quasi cine-hipster hat and join the hordes praising its mystifying genius? shall i write myself into a hole of intellectual presuppositions and end up understanding my own words less than i did the film?
or should i, as i suspect was joe’s (director weerasethakul’s, that is) intent, just write – as he would simply you just watch his movie? it’s a simple enough tale: deathbed-laden uncle boonmee retreats to a remote thai village to spend the last of his days with family, chewbacca’s kid brother and a ghost or two. the recollection of past lives ensues; as a buffalo, perhaps a suave catfish and one of several monkey-esque creatures in a wookie insurgency. i think.
and in many ways i think is joe’s biggest coup. his is a cinema so removed from our cultural understandings of what going to the movies should be, there ain’t much else you can do while seeing it. it’s this difference that lends itself to the atmosphere in the darkened room: it’s slow, it’s quiet and strange. and in all those ways it’s rather transportative, even metaphysical in its hold over the audience. scratch, by the parallel-universe pondering final act it is absolutely metaphysical. the more and more removed from my first viewing i get, the more i remember the intangible queerness so much a part of its power.
if it weren’t so interestingly crafted – from the sensitive, deftly cool performance by first-timer thanapat saisaymar to the shapeshifting cinematography and the lush visual allegory offered by production designer akekarat homlaor – uncle boonmee wouldn’t be nearly as unforgettable. and i don’t mean to attribute that word with any profundity at all: you will simply just not forget the time you saw this film. it’s bound to become one of those cannes winners: the singular, quietly audacious ones more respected 20 years from now than now.