Thursday, February 17, 2011

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

I have to admit, I’m an arthouse-junkie – if it goes outside the typical arthouses that shows french dramas about nothing. On Ninja Dixon I always write about negelected movies, exploitation, weird stuff from around the world, seventies cult and so on, but very few times about experimental movies. But with Apichatpong Weerasethakul it’s different. His Mysterious Object at Noon is one of my favorites, an experimental mix between documentary and improvised drama (with touches of sci-fi, but expect not special effects). Uncle Boonmee is on the same scale of oddness, but in a totally different visual style.

Uncle Boonmee is dying of kidney failure. He’s walking around on his farm talking with his sister-in-law and waiting for a young relative to help him with the illness in the evening. During dinner his dead wife appears and soon his long lost son finally comes back in the form of a ghost monkey, a nature spirit with red glowing eyes. This starts the process of Uncle Boonmee last trip to death as he remembers past lives as well as future ones…

This sounds straight and forward, but it’s not. Apichatpong has created one of the most hypnotic movies I’ve ever seen. The camera is in 99% of the takes completely static, focusing on sometimes irrelevant situations, which of course never is irrelevant. Everything has a meaning in Uncle Boonmee. It’s slow and builds its story on thick atmosphere and low-key acting. Apichatpong said that one of the inspirations he had for the visual style of the movie was the old Thai TV-soaps that was shot on film. Static cameras, slow acting (because the actors didn’t have time to learn the lines and had people behind the camera whispering to them what to say) and monster/demons with red lamp-eyes trying to scare the audience. Everything is here, but it looks and sounds gorgeous, with a fantastic wall of jungle sounds over the pictures. The monkey spirit looks great to by the way, like a kind Naschy-werewolf.

I won’t even try to decode the movie, even if I have my ideas and theories. But it’s something that you, me, have to see again and again to fully understand. The static camera forces us to listen, to look and to concentrate on every detail in the scene. No movements to distract us from the hypnosis. Even really weird moments, like the ghost monkey entering the house or the catfish having sex with an ancient princess seem completely natural, something we accept to the fullest without even analyzing it.

It just feels stupid to really try to explain Uncle Boonmee, its one of those movies you should experience under total concentration, either alone in the darkness or together with someone who can appreciate this kind of movie. Let yourself be hypnotized by Uncle Boonmee, let yourself be drawn into his last days of living.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

even you didn't decode a movie, i think you said a lot of it.

feels like this movie is not ending with last scene we see on a screen, it's still alive inside you...

great movie