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VINE VOICEon November 16, 2013
This is a meditation. True, it is mystical and one that's difficult to understand if you try to understand it. This is a film to simply watch and allow to happen. I do give it five stars. But you do need to be able to appreciate mystical story telling to appreciate this.
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on August 16, 2011
For people with an interest in Thailand and its ways of viewing the world, this is a must. It is a real 'movie' in the sense that you must watch it, rather than listen to it. Its beauty and depth is stunning. I'd recommend it as a set along with Tropical Malady. 10/10
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on April 12, 2017
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on February 8, 2013
What an amazing viewing experience. Mr. Weerasethakul, thank you for making this film. As a fellow filmmaker, I salute you!
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on May 24, 2016
Want a movie thats interesting and thought provoking this is it.
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on October 14, 2011
Uncle Boonmee is often beautiful to watch but sad, strange, depressing all come to mind also. I bought this DVD and should have rented it. I love Thailand and Thai culture and believe in reincarnation; but, somehow this movie left me more unsettled than I would like to admit to. I do recommend it but at your own risk.
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on May 3, 2014
I was so excited when I read the reviews. But this movie made little sense to me. There is a scene where a princess shows up in the jungle without explaining who she is or why she is there, she get's into a lake to be with a talking fish. The fish then kills her by... going between her legs. ??? It was an immensely slow film, which doesn't generally bother me. But it was like several little films all edited together without explanation. The ending was slow and yet abrupt at the same time and I couldn't quite tell you what happened. This cost too much money for what it was. This is a difficult film to understand the storyline, which is disappointing because the beginning was good.
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on July 13, 2014
Uncle Boonme opens with the scene of a water buffalo tied to a lone little tree. At first the beast seems fine with its predicament but soon realizes it can easily snap the rope and wander off. Now free, the buffalo trots for awhile and seems to be enjoying its new found freedom but when it enters a darkened forest it just comes to a stop. Here the buffalo is surrounded by many, many trees and doesn't know what to do or where to go. Before it had been tied to just one small tree and all its needs were being met by its owner. Yet now it is encircled by every tree - a jungle of vines and tangles all jumbled up among each other whose roots intermingle and to an outsider would almost seem as if it were one large living organism. The buffalo, though not really scared, is just not really able to go on any further and so it allows its human master to lead it back out of the forest to presumably be tied up again.

This opening scene is possibly the visual keys we need to understand what we are about to experience. Thai mythology, karma, reincarnation, the magical - these are all elements the film is dealing with.

Uncle Boonme, the titular character, is dying and he has done and seen things in his past that he believes have led a terminal kidney disease. He claims that it is karma that has made him ill, karma for killing the communists during an unspecified war and that his body has been infected with death itself. Boonme must now rely on modern medicine and other people to help him live and he has to navigate the world of the living to make peace with his death and his situation. Boonme has to be led back out of the jungle just like the buffalo.

One evening during dinner he is visited by the ghosts of his wife and his lost son who has become some sort of wild, ape-like creature. In any other film this would be a major dramatic moment, but here the ghosts just appear and nobody seems too put out by it as if this is a common occurrence. Later in the film, Boonme talks about a dream he once had where in the future time travelers are shown their lives projected onto a movie screen. Once their lives have been given a linear narrative they just simply disappear like ghosts.

In one of the more fantastical scenes in the film, a princess who longs to be beautiful but is rather quite plain, swims with a catfish in a dark forest pond. The catfish sees her as beautiful and begins to make love to her. Enraptured, she gives up all the material belongings that are supposed to make her more beautiful in the eyes of men, drops them in the pond and gives into life itself and the pure ecstasy of just being alive.

Though the film deals with some “big questions” it never makes much of a fuss about them. They are just presented as is and we are left to make sense of them as we wish. Even the final scene where two characters see themselves from outside their own bodies does not seem out of the ordinary to anyone. There is no notion of time, past, present or future - it’s all the same.

Boonme has a floating, lyrical quality and that fits the themes the director is trying to explore. Maybe life, like this film, really is just a floating, lyrical journey and perhaps we only make it complicated when we try to make sense of it.
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on July 30, 2013
UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES (2010): Thai director Apichatong Weerasethakul makes films about his past and the different ways we use memory to construct a version of reality and ourselves, and, since he is an artist, he has many dimensions and is therefore made up of not just one reality or self but many intersecting (and perpetually migrating) realities and selves. The one thing that unites all of these intersecting realities and selves is the natural world (and for Weerasethakul that means the Thai jungle), especially the natural world at night where all of these realities and selves can sit down to a late dinner and discuss the mysteries of existence and ask each other questions. Who is Apichatong Weerasethakul? He is the dying Uncle Boonmee who has killed many communists in his day but who is now living out his final days on a coriander farm, he is his sister, he is his nurse, he is his cook, he is his dead wife who materializes out of thin air, he is his son who vanished in the jungle many years ago but has now reappeared as a monkey ghost who politely joins the dinner, he is everything and everyone that he can recall. His memory is populated by actual people and experiences but aided by television shows and feature films that affect the way he recalls and represents and frames that lived experience. Who is Apichatong Weerasethakul? He is Ingmar Bergman, Luis Bunuel, Andrei Tarkovsky, Chris Marker and Abbas Kiorastami (who all could just as well be sitting round that table enjoying a midnight conversation with the director's several selves but who make their presences known in the way Weerasethakul sequentially incorporates their distinct styles--and distinct time signatures-- into each of the five sections of his film). Weerasethakul transgresses virtually every boundary (man/nature, man/woman, old/new, high/low, magic/real, natural/supernatural) in this evocative meditation on identity and history and art but perhaps his most endearing transgression/quality is his ability to evoke the supernatural but also to find humor in his own evocations/representations (the monkey ghost looks like a man in a cheap monkey costume), so you get both mysticism and levity in virtually every frame. Rarely has a film so artfully/artlessly blended the mythical and the mundane. Highly recommended. Bears comparison with HOLY MOTORS (2012).
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon February 18, 2011
I had a chance to see this film at a festival and was quite fascinated. I'd seen most of the director's other films on dvd. Although he studied filmmaking in the United States, at the Art Institute of Chicago, Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (known to those who know him simply as "Joe") seems almost to reinvent cinema with each new film. There is an innocence in his eye, a freshness in his vision, that makes it feel as if he is doing something very different with his camera than what we are used to. Scenes of nature, in particular, are sometimes included in his films to create an atmosphere or mood or to establish the emotional state of one of the characters, rather than as a strict continuation of plot. He works in a tradition of contemplative cinema, that gives the viewer time to reflect and cause to wonder, and while his style and subject matter is quite different, I think he deserves to be mentioned alongside filmmakers such as Carlos Reygadas and Andrei Tarkovsky and Michelangelo Antonioni. His approach to filmmaking is not far in fact from Tarkovsky's montage and memory infused The Mirror.

The basic story of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, that won the prestigious Palme d'Or prize at the 2010 Cannes film festival, is fairly simple and based on the account of a man named Boonmee who recounted to a Buddhist priest his memories of past lives as he prepared for dying. In this version, where Weerasethakul blends his memories of his own father and of his own youth with the story that inspired him, Boonmee is a member of Thailand's landed gentry, who returns home with some family members to die after going to the hospital and being diagnosed with acute kidney failure, for which he has to have daily dialysis treatments. He uses his remaining time to reconnect with family and to reconsider his past. In the telling, however, the story is not so simple.

The film opens on sounds of nature - insects, birds, animal cries; the sounds of life in the wild, outside of the home, the reminder of an ever present living world that surrounds the events taking place in the film, never quite goes away. When, later in the film, Boonmee is visited by his dead wife, she tells him that "heaven is overrated" - it's this world, the world of the living, of insects and animals and plants and spirits, where the present is infused with the past and pregnant with the future, where death and rebirth are ever present, that interests Weerasethakul the filmmaker.

The dawn slowly emerges upon a water buffalo wandering through the lush jungle. It doesn't know or care that it's broken its tether, and is wandering free. For the ox there are no boundaries that matter. The bell around its neck signals to its owner that it has escaped. But it's not so stuck on escape that it resists being led back. Is this one of Boonmee's past lives? Or is he the man who comes to lead the buffalo back to the fold? Or is the catfish who has an encounter with the disfigured princess one of Boonmee's past lives? Or is he the princess, or is he the child she conceives? The basic assumption that underlies this film is that we can't know, that an animal could be an ancestor or a descendant, that the lives of human beings and animals are not so distant. That realization links to two traditional Buddhist doctrines, that are not so much thematized or discussed in this film as assumed. The doctrine of reincarnation and the doctrines of no-self and of interbeing.

In the west the idea of reincarnation seems superstitious and strange because it seems conceptually impossible that I, the same I, could inhabit the body of an animal and then of a man, or of a man and then another man or another woman. But we need to remember that key notions of Buddhism, that accompany the idea of reincarnation are the idea of the non-self and the corresponding notion of interbeing, that to grasp oneself in truth is to recognize that the being of any one thing exists only in its unity and interpenetration with all beings. The famous joke about how the Buddhist orders a hotdog captures this notion crudely: make me one with everything. Related to this doctrine that the true self is the interconnected self, is the idea that what we consider to be self, the isolated ego, is no self at all. I am not a stable self, what I call I is merely a temporary association of feelings and ideas that will pass away, like everything, and holds together only as a result of its causal relations with other things that it effects and that affect it in turn. If there is no true self that underlies its various manifestations and all there is to the self is how it manifests itself in relation to other things at any time, then it should be clear that what we call death and what we call life are interconnected: I am always dying and being reborn, and to die is to pass into a cycle of rebirth, to become part of new lives that will themselves pass away and be reborn. We forget this and become attached to the one self opposed to others, we put ourselves above the others and the result is war: of man against man, of man against nature. We define ourselves in oppositional terms and cling to these fragile identities. We think of man as essentially other than the animal, the living as essentially other than the dead, the Thai as essentially different than the Laotian. At the same time, we think of us as unchanging and continuous, both as individuals, as national identities and as species.

If there is a consistent theme throughout Weerasethakul's work as a filmmaker it is to challenge both the assumed boundaries between us and them, or I and other, or past and future, but also to challenge the presumably simple continuity of the self or of the nation. Boonmee's son goes in search of the monkey spirits of the forest, and ends up becoming one. Boonmee's wife passes away, but can still come to visit. On the other hand, Thailand is only arbitrarily distinguished from Laos by a border, and Boonmee's sister in law is mistaken to think that there is some essential difference between Thais and Laotians. Boonmee is in one sense changed from the young man he was; and yet he feels his illness to be partially the result the impact of the violence he participated in as a soldier, killing communists. Perhaps the most remarkable sign that he has changed, and a delightful metaphor for a central theme of the film, is the fact that he has transformed his extensive family farm in order to raise bees, in accordance with his deceased wife's wishes. On the one hand, bees are clearly not individuals, and have their identity bound up with the life of the hive as a whole. In addition, what allows the bee to survive is also what pollinates the many flowering plants in the farm, and thereby provides fruit and nourishment for many other creatures, so that its life is very explicitly bound up with the vitality of that which surrounds it, something we tend to forget but that Boonmee is coming to discover, and that Weerasethakul hopes to show us. When Boonmee shares the honey with his sister in law, she is delighted. The bee's honey, by design, combines the delicate flavors of tamarind and maize - bitter and sweet, like life.
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