Monday, February 28, 2011

A few words on Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is due to begin it's platformed US release Wednesday in New York and LA. I picked up an import DVD a not long ago because I wasn't sure when the film was actually coming out and I wanted to catch up with films I missed at the new York Film Festival last year. (An aside: A big thank you to Jesse at Diabolik DVD for helping me with the DVD and a steady stream of good conversation.)

The film was the surprise winner at Cannes last year. At this past year's New York Film Festival it was a hot ticket. For those who remember back that far I had tried to attend the press screening but missed it due to the problems with my back which caused me to miss a train and thus the screening. Sitting outside the theater on line for the next film, Certified Copy, we were talking about the film. The word from the people I was sitting with was that people either loved the film or were bored silly by it. When the screening for Boonmee ended and people started to wander out the reaction was pretty much the same, some people were thrilled by it and others appreciated the nap.

I'm really mixed on the film, and because of that I'd say a few words since I'd like you to know what you are getting into if you see great reviews and rush out to see it. My desire to do this comes from talks I had with a couple people in my office have read great reviews and are looking forward to seeing it. I know them and I know their taste and they are going to be bored to tears by the pace and the seeming split between the film as written about and the film as seen. To at least give you a fighting chance I'm reviewing the film. (Left to my own devices I would have taken a pass at reviewing the film at all). What follows is a few straight forward remarks about the film to kind of counterpoint the long flowing words that I've read in the overly glowing reviews from some corners.

The film is about Uncle Boonmee who is slowly dying due to a kidney ailment. His sister in law and his nephew arrive at his remote home and spend some time with him. One night while having dinner his dead wife materializes and his missing son, turned in to a bigfoot like creature, arrives to explain why he's been missing for 6 years.

If the long takes and great silences that proceeded it hadn't already had you leaning one way or another, these turn of events will probably make up your mind about the film for certain. For me it was an odd turn that kept me watching despite reservations. I know other people were like WTF?

A beautifully shot film, this is the sort of film you put on and just have play out as a moving picture. It's just beautiful.

For me the problem is that we have way too much time to look at the pretty pictures. people sit and stare. the camera wanders through the jungle. Occasionally people speak to each other. When the people do speak it's often quite good (if a bit formal). The trouble is that if you don't click into the mind mindset, if you don't like the silence, the long takes and the meaningful conversation this is going to be a long haul. (The film begins with two long almost silent sequence, the first follows a water buffalo that breaks loose and wanders into the jungle, and the other is a car ride where we just watch the country pass by. After the second I was like, Ah so this is what the film is going to be like, and I let the film wash over me.)

As I said I'm mixed about the film. I like what the film is doing (The conversation, the ideas, the photography) but I was bored by how it was done (the meaningful silences, the long takes, the slow pace that promises more than it delivers). To me it's an okay film, but nothing that is worth rushing out to see. I kind of get the feeling that many people who have loved the film are responding to the novelty of a Thai film instead of a truly great film.

I can't guess what your reaction will be, and to that end, I leave the decision to see or not see the film to you. I'd just like you to be more armed than you might not otherwise be. (Me I'd wait for DVD)
(FYI- The Poster is by Iluustrator Chris Ware)

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