Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, opened at New York’s Film Forum on Friday. Boonmee won the Palm d’Or at the latest Cannes film festival, and like Weerasethakul’s other films, is widely acclaimed by critics. It is yet another cerebral, enigmatic masterpiece by one of the world’s best filmmakers working today, and it is surely the movie to go out and see right now.
Boonmee centers on the last fews days in the life of a farmer (Boonmee) dying of some sort of kindey disease. He is visited by his sister-in-law, his late wife in ghost-form, and his son who disappeared seven years before – his son comes in the form of a man-ape with glowing red eyes. Boonmee reminisces with his visitors, contemplates the nature of death and past lives, and reflects on why he is dying to begin with. There is also a side story involving a princess traveling in a forest who mates with a mystical catfish in order to become beautiful. Obviously, the supernatural element is prevelant in Weerasethakul’s latest film, certainly more so than in his other work.
But Boonmee is no simple ghost story: it’s meditation on life, death, and the power of film to uncover a different level of reality. In a gesture that recalls Antonioni’s classic Blow Up, Boonmee’s son notices a ghost-like apparation in one of his photos taken in the jungle, and ultimately transforms into one of these apparations and enters in to some sort of alternate world.
It does not really do justice to Weerasethakul’s film just to describe its story. In fact, as with his other films, it is more the total experience that counts, anyway – it’s as if he brings us into a different level of reality. As with his other works, great attention is paid to things like sound design and composition. A soundtrack is created both with the natural sounds emiting from the jungle, and from low ambient rumbling that add to the eerie quality of many sequences. Each frame is painstakingly composed and deliberate.
For a visual and aural experience unlike any other, go see Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. It might be slow and cerebral, but it will take you to another plane of existence during its two hour duration.