Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul

* * * * *

Weerasethakul, plays something of a trick on his audience, introducing us to this film with an extremely long take reminiscent of the opening of Reygadas’ Silent Light. But don’t let the first 10 minutes fool you. This is not a typical art-house film, not one of those “world cinema” films that all use the same aesthetics to get picked up by distributors. This is one of the most unique films you’ll ever see; yet it remains congenial and familiar throughout recalling Ugetsu, El Topo, Southeast Asian horror films, and a late Strindberg play but also being nothing at all like any of those.

There are several things going on in this film: an examination of a dying man and his view of death faced with both the horror and the sublime; the transformation of two others into other creatures as found in many legends and told without apology; and cinema as death.

Those themes at work in this film deserve at least 15 pages to do it justice, so I won’t go into them. And the less you know about this film the better. It’s best to be just immersed in it. For me this was like watching 2001 for the first time: it’s Mesmerizing, gorgeous, tender, frightening, and intellectually exhilarating. It may seem fitting to say this film is otherworldly, but the fact is, within all of this mysticism and cinematic pontification is a film that feels more deeply grounded in the reality of what it means to be human than any I’ve seen in a long while. It is, however, fitting to say this is a masterpiece.

Cross references:

El Topo (1970)

Ugetsu (1953)

Shutter (2004)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Silent Light (2007)

The Ghost Sonata  by August Strindberg