Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives - Blu-ray Review

'the story is minded to go where it pleases, safe in the knowledge that it matters not a jot whether anything is happening on the ground on which it treads'

The very definition of a film that 'isn't for everyone', Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives has ghosts, red-eyed monkey men and a sequence of catfish rape. To call the Thai Palme d'Or winner from Cannes 2010 'a little bit experimental' is to call Albert Einstein 'a little bit of a scientist'.

It's not hard to see why the Cannes elite decided to reward the film with the festival's highest honour. Apichatpong Weerasethakul's direction is of the floaty kind which spends a long time waiting for people to enter the shot. There's some lovely imagery of forests and country paths and lakes, just waiting to be interrupted by human interference and/or the occasional criminally-minded catfish.

The shooting style and cinematography provide a nice complement to the story, which is similarly minded to go where it pleases, safe in the knowledge that it matters not a jot whether anything is happening on the ground on which it treads. Uncle Boonme (Thanapat Saisaymar) of course provides the central thread but diversions towards a princess in the lake and a escaped bull provide material which may or may not be related to the 'past lives' he has reportedly lived.

Whilst the approach may have impressed the awarding bodies it is not difficult to see why this will probably pass the mainstream by for the most part. Narratively it is all over the place and any sense of closure is ruined by a final shot in a hotel room which makes you question pretty much everything you've seen up to that point. Any sense of anything being explained is illusory at best and deliberately obtuse at worst. Approach it with the intention of enjoying the visuals and being led on a purposefully meandering daydream though and you've got a good chance of coming out of it with the sense of spiritual enlightenment Weerasethakul seems obviously to aim for.

Look further...

'At the film's end, there is a measured return to reality as we recognize it. The spirit world recedes. But does the real world have any more substance than visions and hallucinations' - Roger Ebert, 3.5/4


  1. I always find a film like this difficult to watch. I like watching experimental fair but I've come to realise that I prefer a reason for to the film is going in a certain direction. It's grating when a film wanders off because I can never contextualise what I'm seeing. I find it hard to derive meaning from something that is so unspecific and that's an viewpoint that affected my thoughts of the Tree of Life when i saw that last week.

    I'll give it a shot but I'm a little wary of it.

  2. I think in general, especially if you're usually not a fan of the more unfocussed efforts, then that's a sensible approach to take. Don't get me wrong, this does have a flowing narrative to it, it's just that sometimes it flows over the sides and ends up absolutely everywhere! I can understand why people like this sort of film (this one in particular) but, like you, I find myself gravitating towards more narratively obvious offerings most of the time.