New York Film Festival – Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives


25 September
New York Film Festival
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
 (Thai: ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ, RTGS: Lung Bunmi Raluek Chat)
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010, UK/Thailand/France/Germany/Spain, 113m. A Strand release.

Thanapat Saisaymar as Uncle Boonmee
Jenjira Pongpas as Jen
Sakda Kaewbuadee as Thong
Natthakarn Aphaiwong as Huay, Boonmee’s wife
Jeerasak Kulhong as Boonsong, Boonmee’s son
Kanokporn Thongaram as Roong, Jen’s friend
Samud Kugasang as Jai, Boonmee’s chief worker
Wallapa Mongkolprasert as the princess
Sumit Suebsee as the soldier
Vien Pimdee as the farmer

“Uncle Boonmee” opens to a black screen accompanied by forest sounds. “I am obsessed by sound,” says director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Weerasethakul and his production team had collected a huge library of jungle sounds from previous projects, and this film is the beneficiary.

Set in Thailand’s rural northeast, “Uncle Boonmee” tells the story of a farmer dying from kidney failure, who is tended to by loved ones and visited by the ghosts of his wife and son in his last days.

Throughout, sounds are very important. Pages turning in a photo album. Fragments of conversation, “I don’t know if I’ll like it here – all these ghosts and migrant workers.” And bugs.

Uncle has killed too many communists and bugs in his quest for tamarind and honey. His karma is not too good.

A fairy tale, the princess and the catfish.

Boonmee’s dream, photos, the future. His final cave dream. Past people – monkey ghosts. The scream of the forest.

A closing scene with Jen, her friend, and a monk. Simultaneously in hotel room watching television, and in a Karaoke bar. A disruption in time. What is reality, what is illusion?

“Uncle Boonmee” is the final installment in Weerasethakul’s multi-platform art project, called “Primitive,” which deals with the director’s homeland – the Isan region, just by the border with Laos. His script was inspired by a sermon book written by a local monk who recorded the story of the old man who claimed to have recalled his previous incarnations. It consists of six reels each shot in a distinct Thai cinematic style.

The movie opens with a water buffalo running across a broad plain, who is found, recaptured, and brought (with resistance) back to his place. Then we meet Boonmee, nearing the end of his life, as his veranda becomes a meeting place for spirits from his past: the ghost of his beloved wife, and his son, now a “monkey ghost” who have come to watch over Boonmee and usher him onward, along with his living family.

“Uncle Boonmee” premiered in competition at Cannes on 21 May 2010, where it won the Palme d’Or – the first Asian film to win the award since 1997 and the first Thai film to win the award.

From the director:

“I believe in the transmigration of souls between humans, plants, animals, and ghosts. Uncle Boonmee’s story shows the relationship between man and animal and at the same time destroys the line dividing them. When the events are represented through cinema, they become shared memories of the crew, the cast, and the public. A new layer of (simulated) memory is augmented in the audience’s experience. In this regard, filmmaking is not unlike creating synthetic past lives.”

Audio over closing credits. A song – Acrophobia by Penguin Villa.