UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES is a much-feted Thai film that won the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year and has been almost-universally lauded as a kind of magical, whimsical, poetical take on love and death.
Uncle Boonmee is a humble man dying of kidney failure in a Thai village where he is cared for by his sister-in-law Jen and shiftless cousin Tong. One night, the ghost of Uncle Boonmee's dead wife fades into the picture, in an entirely unassuming, matter-of-fact way, and simply becomes part of the household. It's as though these characters, in this culture, live in a philosophical world where the separation between the living and the dead is miasmic and we shouldn't be at all surprised to see either side break through to the Other. Indeed, there is no Other - but rather different layers of reality for those that have the seeing of them. So, once you settle into this strange way of perceiving reality, it should come as no surprise to see Uncle Boonmee's son, who disappeared years ago, return as a Chewbacca-like Monkey Spirit with flashing red eyes, or for Cousin Tong to go on retreat and be in the same room with another version of himself. Nor should you be surprised to see a princess-spirit mate with a fish, or for the quixotic director decide to break off for a few minutes to make a political point by showing stills of guerilla fighters in the Thai jungle.
For many reviewers, this strange, exotic mix of magical realism and sheer left-field craziness casts a powerful spell. For then, UNCLE BOONMEE is that rare of rare things - a truly original and Fantastic movie. But for me, the whole thing was a case of the Emperor's New Clothes, where directorial self-indulgence and piss-poor special effects (still photos, Monkey Spirit) undermined the flashes of poetic brilliance (a intimate scene where Uncle Boonmee, on dialysis hugs his ex-wife, as though accepting death; the beatiful fish-fucking scene). It was a movie where individual scenes left me breathless at their audacity and beauty, but which frustrated me with its obliqueness and randomness. Ultimately, I'm glad I saw it for those flashes of brilliance, but god I wish I'd had a remote control fast forward button for the rest.
UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES played Cannes and Toronto 2010 and was released earlier this year in Thailand, Belgium, France, Canada and Germany. It is currently on release in the UK, Denmark, and Spain. It won the Palme d'OR beating BIUTIFUL, ANOTHER YEAR, CERTIFIED COPY, POETRY, ROUTE IRISH....