Friday, August 5, 2011

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Concepts of Time (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives)

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Strand Releasing, 2010.

Death in all of its shrouded mysteries, is explored with a raging heart in master director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's new film, the unshakable Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Part family drama, part enigmatic journey and all encompassing work of art, Uncle Boonmee pushes the boundaries of the cinematic form while questioning the very fabric of our lives and perceptions.

We are presented with Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar), an elderly man slowly dying from kidney disease. He lives wrapped in his memories on a jungle plantation, readying to pass into the next world. All that is keeping him here are his club footed sister-in-law (Jenjira Pongpas) and his lovestruck nephew (Sakda Kaewbuadee) who lovingly care for him and languorously luxuriate in the jungle days and nights of his final days. The phantoms of his past materialize in the sweeping green darkness of the jungle foliage, lit hauntingly by cinematographers Yukontorn Mingmongkon and Sayombhu Mukdeepron, who have mastered the Apichatpong trademark of the enchanted jungle, manifesting the emotions of humans lost within it.

The appearance of the ghost of Boonmee's wife, the monkey-beast form of his long-lost son and a talking catfish all encloak the film in a magical surrealism as envisioned in our director's trademark style, which is to intertwine form and content until they are one, almost becoming inner-realities in and of themselves. Uncle Boonmee feels propulsive and progressive for Apichatpong, while staying true to who he is as an artist.

Apichatpong is one of those directors whose signature is so distinctive that you can tell by one frame whose film you are watching, like Allen or Malick. His shots of traveling roads, densely gorgeous and textured jungle vistas, characters laying around, long still shots which begin and end long before and after other filmmakers would have cut, and sudden changes in perspective are all present as in his earlier films. His themes of longing, human connection, animalism, family, memory, stasis, perceptions of outsiders, perceptions of reality, dreams and most importantly, time, are explored in depth here, perhaps even more so than in his past films.

Uncle Boonmee pulls its willing audience into a spell of pure cinema which binds us with Apichatpong's hypnotizing power as a visual storyteller. His images, their juxtaposition with sound, and the impact of his questioning of time are deeply stimulating and provocative. Time as in real time, the time of our lives, time to relax, the times we had, a time like no other. And especially time as a cinematic concept. What is time? Who are we and where are we? The physiological underpinnings of his visual force are striking and unmistakable as those of a master filmmaker. 

Was any of this real? Is what we see Boonmee's hallucinations from his pain medication? Was it all a dream? The power of Apichatpong and the very essence of cinema itself is to make us dream awake and realize the  preciousness of our time and our lives.

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