18 February 2011

ลุงบุญมีระลึกชาติ (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) *

It's frustrating to watch a film that's basically all symbolism and recognize that you're only getting about 20% of the symbols, but that's how it felt for me as I watched this. Totally dreamlike, a sad fantasy world based on a very eastern approach to mythology and philosophy, and full of historical, cultural, political references that I have only the slightest ideas about. Still, as Jen points out, it's a testament to how fundamentally good a movie is when you still get and enjoy it on a core level despite all the missed layers and references.

The same "monkey spirits" in this -- or similar enough for me, an outsider -- appear as vaguely hostile forces in Princess Mononoke: dark, shaggy shapes lacking distinction or detail, with impossibly glowing red eyes. But seeing them here, in live action, was so much more beautiful and surreal than seeing animated creatures. The moments between Boonmee and his wife, Huay, were consistently touching in how underplayed and vulnerable they were, and the general tone of casual, deadpan acceptance of the bizarre and the impossible lends a soft dignity to some of the stranger moments that I don't think a western film could pull off. The cave, the letting of his fluids, the talk between dying husband and dead wife about how and where they will meet in the afterlife, the monk and Aunt Jen becoming literally detached from their own bodies and going to get dinner in a karaoke bar while they also stayed behind to watch boring television -- all of it was beautiful and wonderful and rich. Not to mention the midstory vignette of the ugly princess and the catfish.

I really liked this film, and the world it shows me, and the mood and atmosphere of the whole thing, and I will definitely watch this again one day, but I still can't help but feel like most of it went over my head. It's too Thai to be meant for me, in a certain sense; but in another, it's perfectly universal and all the more powerful for being so obviously coded about much of its meaning.

Seen at CineMagic, as part of the Portland International Film Festival.

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