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Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

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Guest stu

Don't usually start threads over in the film bit, but I watched Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, by Apichatpong Weerasethakul,

last week (sat next to a particularly attractive member of the Arts and faith community, I should add) and thought it deserved a mention.

It's... something quite special, I think. It left me feeling that I'd been taken on a journey into the borderlands between this world and the other world, and then - quite deliberately - back out again. I wish I could say more about what's so great about it, but I'm not really up on film criticism - I found the world the film created entirely solid and convincing, and there are a couple of scenes that I think will stay with me for a long time. It's about the fear and the love of death, the difficulty there is integrating the sacred and the secular. Or something like that.

It's also about a very rude catfish. I highly recommend it.

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I just saw UNCLE BOONMEE last night.

I must say that my initial impression is that this film is both better, and less strange than I was led to believe by critics. I wonder how much of that is my experiences in Thailand (I have even traveled briefly to the North East - "Essan" as it is known - where Nabua and Khon Kaen are).

If anything, the film is a wonderful meditation on the nature of film and memory, and the history of image making (photographs, shadows in a cave). The returning ghosts echo the memories which return in photographs and film. There is a kind of reincarnation in cinema that Joe is getting at here. It seems to me that this film is tailor made for those of us who are familiar with both Thai culture and the phenomenology of cinema.

I think the final scene is fantastic, down to the decor of the hotel room and the restaurant with karaoke that Tong and Jen go to which just made me miss Thailand all the more. The self-reflexivity of the tv watching and Tong's putting on robes is fascinating.

Also a comment on Thai history. Thailand has long struggled between its identity has having never been colonized, and yet serving the interests of the US state as a non-Communist (I won't say democratic) ally.


"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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I am not sure if this is because I am now have both a son and a daughter, and am thus very susceptible to films about father/children dynamics (especially when they play out according to the nuances of gender), but I like this film a smidgin more than Tropical Malady. Both films possess the same mythical naivete that is able to comprehend life and its symbolic repercussions in one full glimpse.

I want to hear much more from you, Anders, about how Thai this film is from the ground up. A nice autobiographical essay on the film may be in order (hint-hint). But even without this background knowledge at my fingertips, I am really lulled by the way Uncle Boonmee evokes a form of memory I am sure to encounter as my children and I grow older and life pushes us in different directions.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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Can I remind people of our thread on 'Syndromes and a Century' which is also listed in A&F's top 100 (and is my film of the decade in a list of one).

Did like 'Uncle Boonmee' plenty, but it lacks the daring cinematography of 'Syndromes'. When I saw the latter in the cinema, I swooned. It touches on similar themes to 'Boonmee' but he does something radically new with cinematic language in it. So, if you ain't already, check it out.

Edited by gigi

"There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones, that is intrinsically artistic" - Vladimir Nabokov

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Between that poster, and this image that keeps popping up --

uncle_boonmee2.jpg

-- I really feel an urgent need to see this.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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It would make an interesting double-bill with Eraserhead, given the fatherhood issues related to each film.


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Nice avatar, btw. :)

The thing that scares me is that I don't easily connect with Asian cinema. Oh, there are a few that stand out, Ki-Duk Kim in particular. But it's a part of the world I struggle with, as far as film goes.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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A great poster, judged as a work of art? Ja. A great poster, judged as a selling point for the film? Ich don't ssink sso.

(vjm says, as if he could think of a poster concept that could still this film, or even imagine that one exists.)


Yeah ... well ... I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree with you there on that one.

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I think the final scene is fantastic, down to the decor of the hotel room and the restaurant with karaoke that Tong and Jen go to which just made me miss Thailand all the more. The self-reflexivity of the tv watching and Tong's putting on robes is fascinating.

Anders: could you explain a bit about the monasticism seen here? Is he at the end of his time? taking a little break? not all that good of a monk?


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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The film is playing, just once, this weekend at AFI Silver. Part of a festival, I'm guessing, although the City Paper listing didn't give many details. I believe the film is slated to open later this month or next for an official "run."


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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It's playing LA this week (and last I think). Don't know if it will be headed to other area theaters.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Tom Stempel (the "Understanding Screenwriting" columnist) @ The House Next Door: "A Thai Plan 9 From Outer Space?"

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Tom Stempel (the "Understanding Screenwriting" columnist) @ The House Next Door: "A Thai Plan 9 From Outer Space?"

No. That would be Tears of the Black Tiger. I even referenced Wood in my review of that one.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Matt Noller at The House Next Door provides a couple of helpful links:

The two previous filmic pieces of Weerasethakul's Primitive project, the video work Phantoms of Nabua and the short film A Letter to Uncle Boonmee, are not essential to understanding Uncle Boonmee, but they do help clarify the feature's intentions. Phantoms of Nabua is an experimental, non-narrative work that uses pure light, projections, and performance to explore representations of violence. (You can view it here.) A Letter to Uncle Boonmee is about Weerasethakul's search to find a house suitable to film in for Uncle Boonmee, and it too uses experimental techniques (recitation, repetition, pure visual metaphor) to explore art and storytelling's role in preserving and unearthing history. (You can view it, for a small fee, here.) All three works are set in the Thai town of Nabua, which was subject to brutal military rule for several decades when the government sought to control the threat of communism. Many villagers were executed or forcefully removed from their homes, and Weersethakul's project in Primitive is, to some extent, an attempt to deal with the town's dark past. Boonmee comments that his sickness is karmic retribution for his role in killing communists, and one stunning sequence late in the film uses photographs to propose art and cinema as powerful forces of historical intervention.

But Uncle Boonmee is hardly a tract. It is a mysterious, haunting, and breathtakingly beautiful film about, variously, the relationship between man and nature, history, communal experience and memory, decay, and transcendence. All these factors relate to and deepen the film's political dimensions, but they also form a broader, mythic expression of human experience. Weerasethakul seems genuinely to believe in things like spirits and reincarnation, beliefs that prompt an exploration for startling new ways to explore the metaphysical through film. He is one of just a handful of contemporary directors actively seeking to expand the boundaries of what cinema is and can do. Uncle Boonmee, though it will take more viewings and consideration to fully understand, could very well be his masterpiece.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I hadn't really wondered what Kwaidan played at half-speed would be like, but now I know.

I really sort of mean that, too. Boonmee has quite a number of horror movies tropes-- ghosts, beastly transformations, going into the forest at night, flashlights, caves, weird bestiality fantasies-- but they unfold so gradually and kind of peacefully, that they aren't scary in the way they would be in a typical horror movie.

Two questions, both spoilers: 1. Was the woman in the catfish sequence Boonmee's wife? 2. About the ending: wha? Was is an out of body experience thing?


It's the side effects that save us.
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I may regret this, but I've written a review based on one viewing of this film. I probably need five or six more visits before I'm really ready to offer an interpetation, but I gave it a shot.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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So my 10-year-old daughter walks in and sits down while I'm watching the princess/empress story. She loves princess stories, so I let her stay. We talk about what's happening.

The woman approaches the lake and sees a reflection of a younger woman. My daughter and I discuss how that's similar to some fairy tales she's read. A voice starts talking to the woman, and we realize at some point that it's coming from an (unseen) catfish. The woman starts walking into the water, taking off jewelry. I'm worried she's going to disrobe, and while that wouldn't be the end of the world, I'd rather my daughter not watch that. But I don't pull the trigger and tell her to leave. I let her stay. The woman doesn't fully disrobe. She's just floating there, in the lake.

And then the catfish shows up and does what it does.

My daughter didn't quite get what was happening. I encouraged her that it was time for her to go upstairs, I'd fill her in on the details later.

What do you suggest I tell her?


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I'm just surprised you didn't know what was coming - I haven't watched the film, but I thought everyone knew about the catfish scene...

In general, what did you think of the film? I've been wondering whether or not to see it.

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It's a fantastic film, very odd and hard for me to find points of comparison. Is Ozu a stretch? Probably.

I had no idea about the catfish scene.

The DVD includes previews for a few other films from the same director, a couple of which I've wanted to see for years. I would love to do that, although my DVD store -- the library -- doesn't have those other titles, and I don't do Netflix or other online streaming. I'm very old-school. Even so, my movie-watching plate is constantly full, so I have little incentive to explore new ways of accessing films I've yet to see and am interested in.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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It's a fantastic film, very odd and hard for me to find points of comparison. Is Ozu a stretch? Probably.

Personally, I prefer Pasolini.


"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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