Yesterday me and a few friends braved the cold and the snow to go and see the fantastically titled Thai film ‘Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives‘. Think I’ll start off by saying, it is absolutely mystifying. When the closing credits started to roll, me and all my friends looked at one another, completely perplexed.
The film basically follows its title chatacter, Boonmee, as his sister-in-law visits from the city. Boonmee is sick, and dying, but one evening, whilst around the dinner table, the ghost of Boonmee’s dead wife materialises. They speak with her for a while, but are soon interupted by a set of shimmering red eyes, crawling up the stairs. The owner of the eyes is in fact Boonmee’s son, Boonsong, who disappeared years ago, and has somehow become a ghost monkey, the creature featured on the wonderful theatrical poster above.
The film, as a whole, is incredibly slow moving. The first scene, of Boonmee’s sister-in-law travelling through to Boonmee’s farm, is stretched out a ludicrous ammount. The film is full of shots that last 5 minutes in which nothing much happens, which could have been cut down by several minutes. But it’s best they weren’t, this is almost like white space, and it dominates large sections of the film. It creates a really beautiful contrast to the scenes where something does happen, though. When Boonmee’s wife, Luay, slowly fades into the dinner-table scene, you are genuinely surprised, it feels so real, because whilst a Holywood blockbuster would build up to such a moment, in some attempt to build tension, Uncle Boonmee makes it feel so much more real, the event actually interupts a conversation, so this whole thing feels so part of a real, living, breathing life, that it both shocks you more, and draws you more into Boonmee’s story.
The film is, however, madly abstract at points. It will often cut to completely unrelated characters, doing completely bizarre things (one woman actually has some sort of supernatural sexytime with a catfish). It took my until after the film to realise that these sections are Boonmee’s past lives, but it’s never made clear, even though, with the film being so slow-paced, there would have been time to make that fact more clear. Without it I feel the film will have alienated a lot of people, and that’s a big problem films like this have. It’s fine to be bold, and to challenge society on how a film should be made, but you still have to be able to relate to it. But then, I like what one critic said : “It’s barely a film; more a floating world.” And it really is. It’s just understanding how to watch this film which will innevitably turn a lot of people away from this film.