Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thanks, Joe.

Sometimes living in America, and keeping an eye on world cinema, it becomes frustrating how long it takes some of the world's finest films to play here. Even Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, last year's Palme d'Or winner from the internationally acclaimed filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, seems to be getting released in the States on a weird, sporadic schedule despite being picked up by the stalwart distributor Strand Releasing.

So this is one of those times where criticism turns into promotion, 'cause having seen the film I can only urge my fellow American cinephiles to RUN. RUN to any screening near you and let yourself live in this gorgeous, otherworldly, amazing film.

Weerasethakul has become the poet of the Thai countryside, capturing both the lives of the people who live and work there (or are simply passing through) and the mythology that informs those people's spiritual lives. A friend who saw Uncle Boonmee with me noted that all of Weerasethakul's films seem to begin with the same foley: the sound of insects gently but insistently buzzing in the forest, with occasional interruptions from nocturnal human activity. Uncle Boonmee is spun from a 1983 book in which the title character discussed visions of his past lives experienced during meditation, but the movie expands into Weerasethakul's own life, crafting a fanciful tale that encompasses many of his tropes, including Thai soap operas and mythological creatures.

Weerasethakul continues to spin tales close to his heart in his own unique, quiet language. Minimal gestures - a hand on a shoulder; a fish breaking the surface of a water - land with volumes of emotion. The natural world comes to life in colors that simply don't exist in any other film. Weerasethakul poignantly chose to shoot Uncle Boonmee on film (suggesting that a tale that confronts mortality should be shot on celluloid, a dying medium), but the end result is tumescent with lifeforce, and as hypnotized as one becomes watching it one can't help but feel uplifted by its spirit and warmth.

The film is the culmination of a years-long project centering onthe town of Nabua near the Laotian border. Phantoms of Nabua, a short film Weerasethakul shot earlier as part of the project, can be viewed here.

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