Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a Thai film directed by Apichatpong Weerasthakul, released in 2010 of last year. Based upon an 1984 book called ”A Man Who Can Recall His Past Lives written by a Buddhist abbot who had encountered a man named Boonmee, claiming he was able to vividly recollect his previous lifetimes via mediation, the film possesses a personal aesthetic as opposed to a biographical nature, still however, using a good deal of the book’s content and structure. Inspired further by old television shows and Thai comic books, elements of simple plotlines and the supernatural introduce an air of a folk fable.
The story itself focuses upon the final days of the ailing title character Boonmee. In such subtlety befitting meditative thoughts, we witness him embark on a spiritual journey of enlightenment. Loved ones, including his sister-in-law and her son, the ghost of his long since dead wife, and a once lost, and now metamorphosized, son, are together with him on his exploration of his past lives as he attempts to surmise the possible reasons for his terminal illness.
The film deals greatly with the motifs of memory, transfiguration and death, while touching upon political issues concerning communism during the mid-60s. Yet, the politics are merely a complimentary blip in the whole spectrum of the film. Predominately, transformation and extinction are the center of the film, and serve as a metaphor for the final coffin nail of artistically organic cinema. The film is indeed one of the last motion pictures to be shot on film and acts as a lamentation to this, as Apichatpong has even personally stated.
Shot on six rolls of 16mm, due to not only budget, but to hark back to classic Thai cinema, different styles were taken from the classic to documentary to costume drama and to the director’s own signature of long shots. It also pays tribute to the television shows shot on 16 Apichatpong was able to watch. Particularly elements such as the monsters lurking in the darkness, their glowing red eyes the only indication to the audience that they were there.
A slow-paced film, it is done so with grace and ease, and excellent good humor, rather than stirring impatience and frustrations. It is visually enticing from beginning to its most baffling end, painting a gorgeous otherworld. While undoubtedly, to some this film may be absolutely awful, but to others it was a worthwhile viewing. Even though I know I probably haven’t grasped the ending of this film, I am more than willing to rewatch however many times is needed to. I would certainly recommend taking a chance on this film for its lovable eccentricities and thought provoking ideas.
In its review of the film, Variety had made this rather short and sweet statement in its description of the plot twists that are interwoven throughout:
“apparitions, out-of-body experiences, and sex with a catfish…”