Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

2011's Durban International Film Festival is currently splattered across the city like a pyrotechnic peony, exhibiting a smörgåsbord of cinematic outings originating from distant locales around the world. For instance, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) arrives from director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Thai homeland (though it detoured through last year's Cannes Film Festival to pick up the Palme d'Or), and gently, lazily spun through its reels at UKZN's Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre this Friday past.

Conspicuous before any character is made worthy of investigation is the grinding hum of Boonmee's atmospheric audio, and its intentionally, beautifully degraded film-stock which, for the majority of the film's excursion into Thailand's ominous forestation, remains decidedly underexposed. Eventually the eponymous Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) surfaces from fashioned obscurity, made vague through languid filming, when the parole of his different relationships (with his late wife's sister, with his farmhands, with his medical aide) work to display the kind, faintly tumultuous mind of a man approaching death due to illness in his kidneys. The mundanities of his life are then emphasised, rather than thwarted, when one evening the apparition of his late wife fades into an empty seat at Boonmee's dinner table, only to be later joined by their son who had vanished years before, and who is now closer in appearance to a man-sized monkey than the man he was. The mostly underwhelming entrance of spectres from Boonmee's past into his present indicate the obliqueness of Weerasethakul's film, which has a The Sound and The Fury-like non-differentiation between one's history and memories, and one's current state. Occasional reminiscing by Boonmee, accentuated by a stunning vignette of still photographs, navigates his regrets at killing communists in a distant war and killing insects around his home. This deliberation is as bathed in absurdity and dim turmoil as the rest of the film, but its ability to place past emotions on a tangent with his current disposition especially affecting.

Uncle Boonmee dawdles almost listlessly through its 114 minutes; its commitment to not being hurried bordering on tableau vivant. Admittedly, the movie is more fondly remembered than viewed; it’s tedious in that it films tediousness. Yet, without being hindered by traditional narrative structures (the film is interjected by a seeming Thai fairytale in which a princess lamenting her looks is seduced by an amorous catfish) Uncle Boomee has an austere grace as  it ebbs and flows, moving from thick forests, through a cavernous portal to the afterlife, and into guadily lit urban areas. Resisting simple explanation of the film's many bizarre esotericisms, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is nevertheless a worthwhile expression of surrealism's value in delving into the mysteries of death, and everything thereafter. The film will be re-screened at Musgrave on July 30 at 22:00.


  1. Chris! It's been a long time! Digging your photography and writing!

    Nice review! Are you a fan of Malick at all?

    Keep well man, Will

  2. Hey Will! Been way too long man. Thanks!

    I've only seen Malick's Tree of Life and The Thin Red Line.

    I enjoyed both, but I appreciate the visual grace of the shooting style more-so than the films themselves. I'm keen for another viewing of Tree of Life though.

    So good to hear from you man, I'll be sure to keep in touch!