Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Opinion: B

Very much like any dream you experience the night before, it typically makes no sense to someone else when you describe it verbally the next day. Entirely up to an individual to conjure his/her own definition of this film, its abstract theme and excruciating slow pace could be frustrating to some. Despite so, its haunting and intriguing visuals and cinematography combined with its simple sounds of nature engage your senses well. Likely not for the mainstream audience.

Suffering from acute kidney failure, Uncle Boonmee has chosen to spend his final days surrounded by his loved ones in the countryside. Surprisingly, the ghost of his deceased wife appears to care for him, and his long lost son returns home in a non-human form. Contemplating the reasons for his illness, Boonmee treks through the jungle with his family to a mysterious hilltop cave -- the birthplace of his first life...

Winner of the 63rd Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or, "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" is as every single bit bewildering as it title suggests. At least for me apparently, there's surely a reason to this film being awarded the highest accolade from one of the most prestigious international film festivals in the world.

Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, this film kicks off with some mesmerising scenes of a buffalo in an attempt to escape captivity of its human masters. It's mesmerising in the manner how nature never ceases to amaze in wonder, especially how the sequence of the animal activity works as an up close documentary capture.

Wildlife is never easy for film-makers.

The intention of the opening scene is not made clear and as I try to attain better sense of it, the film renders yet another scene that is controversy-worthy. During a dinner where Uncle Boonmee is having with his family, his late wife's spirit fades in at the table in the most subtle yet disturbing fashion. As Uncle Boonmee is happily catching up with her at the table as if the presence of spirits are customarily acceptable by mankind, the question mark is further enlarged with the appearance of his long-lost son at the dinner soon after.

As a black-haired "Monkey God" with predator-like red pupils (as seen in the above picture)

This is a result of mating with a fellow "Monkey God" during an attempt to get close and personal with one, as elaborated by the Chewbacca resembling creature. As much as we love our lost ones, having two such supernatural incidents at a common family dinner is usually tagged with emotions like shocking and mind-baffling.

But it wasn't so for Uncle Boonmee and the others.

There is also another tongue-wagging scene of a talking catfish performing oral gratification on a floating ancient princess under a waterfall. It is suggestive of Uncle Boonmee being the talking catfish during his past life, could it also be his karma of reassuring the disfigured princess that he reincarnated as a human being in the form of Uncle Boonmee?

A couple more of such incoherent chapters follow in the rest of the film, which I shouldn't elaborate further in an attempt to reduce both spoilers as well as confusion. I guess what the film is trying to portray is the element of life and the true beauty of it as it ventures nearer towards death. Uncle Boonmee is a middle-aged man who is dying of kidney failure, this film attests to his experience of both his past and present life as well as his enlightenment of his pending death.

Possibly religious in nature, it briefly highlights through character conversations that "Heaven is an over-rated hope and it isn't exactly a specific location where people head towards after death". Nearing death experience is also aptly described by Uncle Boonmee as akin to the prior moments before giving a presentation - the nervousness and excitement of uncertainty and possibly fear.

It is all about people-to-people connections, even after death.

As long as you hold the thoughts of those whom you treasured dearly to heart, you'll still be able to find them after life ceases. It's beautiful and somewhat poetic when we come to think of it that way, but not the film with its extremely abstract plot that can hardly be defined as a plot under today's context of film.

With its extended long takes of singular events, the film can be a pain to sit through with the addition of the abstract plot. The only two aspects of the film that managed to draw me in are the visuals and sound. Often brooding and haunting, the visuals do make great impacts upon the audience especially with extended takes where a subject is found not doing much on the big screen. The lack of a music score that is dominated by sounds of nature is also refreshing and highly instills the element of nature in us that is void of artificial man-made effects.

If you do not award merits accordingly to the various aspects of a film and mainly just by blatant entertainment values, Uncle Boonmee is probably not going to be of your liking.

You don't even have to be shy about it, I'm equally baffled like several others.


  1. I like to watch this film since it already won Palme d'Or and got some good reviews, but I'm afraid it will bore me. Great review as always anyway.

  2. It will bore you if you're a simple minded, one dimensional american.


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