Cannes winner from Thailand invites viewer into its dreamscape

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, June 17, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

Another curious coincidence of movie scheduling: The winner of the top prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival is opening locally the same day as the winner of the top prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

What conclusions can we draw from this? Well, it helps to have Brad Pitt in your movie, as “The Tree of Life” (the 2011 winner) does. Both films, as it happens, are spacey, non-narrative offerings that will present a challenge to audiences.

The 2010 winner is “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” a film from Thailand’s gifted filmmaker, Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Any viewer of this film would have a hard time explaining it, but it appears designed not to be understood in any regular way, unless you think, for instance, that a great piece of symphonic music is supposed to be understood.

Most of this visually beautiful film is set in a rural area, where a man who is sick with kidney disease is nearing the end of his life. We witness a number of unusual things as this situation passes by, some of which may be Uncle Boonmee remembering his past lives.

The most peculiar of these episodes involves a traveling princess getting romantic with a catfish at an idyllic waterfall. But if this is a past life, it’s unclear whether Uncle Boonmee was the princess, the catfish or some other actor in the scene.

In the present day, he prepares for the end. It must be coming, because during a dinner outside one night, two apparitions appear at the table, each returning as though to give a proper farewell.

“Uncle Boonmee” is open to the world of fairy tales and mysticism, in which ghosts or Bigfootlike monkey-people with gleaming red eyes might casually stroll into the scene. The film is very matter-of-fact about all this, as though taking us into a place where the practicality of the modern world is replaced by something ancient and perhaps unreal.

What’s cool is that the unreal begins to seem realer than the real. The movie unfolds at a slow pace, inviting you to wander into its dreamscape. It doesn’t look or play like a normal movie, but then this director and others like him are trying to redefine what a movie is, for adventure-minded filmgoers.

“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” (3½ stars)

Thailand’s gifted filmmaker, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, creates a slow, lush dreamscape in which (perhaps) a dying man’s past lives come to the screen. The winner of the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, this movie challenges audiences to find a single meaning, while making the unreal (ghosts and monkey-people, for instance) seems realer than the real. In Thai, with English subtitles.

Rating: Not rated; probably PG for subject matter.

Showing: Northwest Film Forum.

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