UNCLE BOONMEE and an A+ for Originality

As Cannes 2011 approaches, it was nice to have the opportunity to see last year’s Palme d’Or winner on the big screen: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES. Tim Burton was last year’s head of the jury — if you see this film, you’ll see the affinity here – UNCLE is a slow, strange, plot-less journey, relying on visuals and a slow-burn Ozu-like filmmaking that gets better as it goes. The sprinkling of visual surprises feel shocking in comparison to the rest of the material. There are some strange, visceral and unforgettable images, right up Burton’s alley. It’s a real treat in terms of originality — promises abound here that you’ve never seen anything like it before.

In my screening, I was cursed with some unruly undergraduates sitting behind me. I live in a small university town, you see, and they basically run the joint. In this case, a professor (who was sitting safely in the front row away from the morass in the back) had assigned BOONMEE to his entire class of 19 year-olds. I asked the kids behind me to please stop watching the draft on their iPhones. That their discussion of the draft was particularly distracting when a movie was playing. The response was, “But this movie is terrible!” That was before Boonmee’s dead son joins dinner, but he, as a spirit, has actually turned into a life-sized monkey, looking even better than Chewie. Or when Boonmee’s liver needs to be drained again. Everything in BOONMEE is taken in stride, calmly, in a wide shot, so the drama is simple and serene. The colors of the jungle are pastel greens and chalky blues and pale pale yellows. Then appears a strange creature, looking out at us inexplicably. There are other stories that intersect with the main narrative, wherein Uncle Boonmee, who is ill, recalls past relationships over mostly silent dinners. These other stories include one that made my undergrad pals shriek with “No way!”s — a love scene, shall we say, between princess and catfish.

Check out the trailer here: