Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

2010, Thailand/UK/France/Germany/Spain/Netherlands, directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

This was my first opportunity to see one of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's films on the big screen, and it's a stunning experience to be fully enveloped in his atmospheric world. His films are made very much to be projected on a large scale in the dark, the soundscapes and rhythms becoming that much more hypnotic when shorn of the distractions inevitable when watching on a television. That mesmeric quality seems to flow from one of his films to the next, each a kind of oasis from the sensual assault that is daily (urban) life. The city is a welcome absence here, with one character scornful of city life, although when Weerasthekul does film urban settings they seem shorn of the people and bustle one might expect.

As with the overall tone, there is a continuity of tropes throughout the director's work, with certain ideas cropping up over and over - car rides (all of his features feature an extended sequence shot from within a car if memory serves), medical matters, people in and out of their accustomed uniforms, folk tales reworked almost obsessively, and hovering behind everything the primeval power of the forest. That power isn't necessarily malign or alarming, though: the characters are perfectly comfortable with the idea of two different and interacting levels of reality, and there are flashes of humour as the two levels collide. Here the forest becomes a space of spiritual repose, as in the director's prior films Tropical Malady and Blissfully Yours, although it's not abstracted from the realities of Thai life - the location near borders with Thailand's neighbours is a source of insecurity for some even while it provides solace to others.

Weerasethakul's imagery is as striking as ever: there's a scene in the forest at dusk where the light creates the strange impression that everything is underwater, while other shots make use of bright swatches of colour, such as the saffron robes of a somewhat reluctant monk or the eye-popping hues in a temple. The characters are always placed with great care in the frame, too - the shot at the top reminds me of one in Tropical Malady (pictured in my entry on that film) where one character is right at the front of the frame while the main action happens behind him. 

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Thanks for the review. I've been debating whether to see this one and it does sound intriguing.

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