Saturday, August 27, 2011

[Short] Review: "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives"

Alternating between the mundane and the quietly fascinating, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's 2010 Palme D'Or Winner is a strange look at the ghosts of one man's past. At the same time, it's also a surprisingly mundane family portrait, even though it features brushes with the fantastical and surreal. As Boonmee lays on his death bed, his family, namely his wife Jen, are visited by red-eyed, ape like creatures, as well as a ghost. Yet both of these encounters are, barring the initial jolt, handled by the film, and therefore, the characters, as though it were an every day occurrence. Some of these episodes, the most memorable of which involves a princess and a catfish, are mesmerizing. A trip inside of a cave, though handled with simplicity, is mesmerizing, and culminates in a scene of startling natural beauty. It's a testament to Weerasethakul's skill behind the camera.

Unfortunately, those skills aren't as present across his writing. The film has its compelling stretches, but it has just as many passages that are so dry that you're mind will likely start to wander. Throw in the increasingly aimless nature of the narrative, coupled with and ending bereft of any impact whatsoever, and what you're left with is a little more than an experiment. It's an interesting experiment to be sure, one whose goal seems to be to parse out its narrative in vaguely linked episodes. The problem is that while the results of Weerasethakul's experiment are intermittently interesting, even mesmerizing, the parts don't add up to a completely satisfying or coherent whole.

Grade: B-/C+

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