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.
Though Thailand’s cinematic history extends back to 1923, it’s only been in last ten years or so that Thai films began cropping up in festivals and theaters worldwide. Even at home, directors were mostly churning out populist fare, catering to the masses with low-budget genre productions. In the 1970s there was a brief period of socially critical films, which stemmed from the student uprisings of 1973 and 1976. However, it wasn’t until 1997 that Thai cinema found acceptance and acclaim in the west, and it began when newcomer Pen-Ek Ratanaraung’s debut feature, FUN BAR KARAOKE, had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. Considered the birth of New Thai Cinema, it paved the way for a handful of directors working both within genres (Prachya Pinkaew, ONG BAK) and strictly arthouse (Aphichatpong Weerasethakul, SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY). Yet what separates Ratanaraung from most of his peers is the international success he’s found from audiences both high and low.