If there is one film that is keeping me committed to my pledge to attend the Vancouver International Film Festival, it is Apichatpong Weerasethakul's recent Palme d'Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. I even love the title. In 2001 I saw Mysterious Object at Noon (2000), Weerasethakul's first feature length film, at the Walker Art Center and was struck by its calm defiance to narrative structure. A mere three years later in 2004, Weerasethakul, who insists you call him Joe as soon as he sees you struggle with his name, was in town for a dialogue with Chuck Stephens and a short, but rapturous, retrospective. (The program took place during the Walker's renovations and was part of the 'Walker Without Walls' program. The films were screened at the Bell and the dialogue took place at MCAD.) The retrospective included another screening of Mysterious Object at Noon, a rarely seen uncut version of Blissfully Yours, a short experimental film called Haunted Houses and his new film at the time Tropical Malady, which I can easily say was one of the most overwhelming cinematic experiences I've ever had. Even after repeat viewings on DVD, Tropical Malady still remains luminous in its simplistic beauty and free-form ambiguity.
Weersethakul followed up Malady with an even more complex film, Syndromes and a Century, a film that has buried within it a million micro/macro, emotional/physical moments of connections and transcendence that I have yet to fully understand. I adore Syndromes, but am still bitter about the fact that I had no opportunity to see it on the big screen. Mark my words, this will not happen with Weersethakul's new film Uncle Boonmee. Not because I'm sure it is going to play in Minneapolis, but I am committed to travel to see this film in a theater. In a chronicle of the most anticipated films of 2010 that will be featured on In Review Online, I wrote this:
In certain circles, Apichatpong Weerasethakul is already an international superstar. Crowned the director of the decade by consensus, he was in the spotlight as 2009 came to a close with his sublime masterpieces, Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century, topping many lists. As we put the last decade behind us, Weerasethakul seems poised to take on the next with Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. An expansion on a short film he made last year, Uncle Boonmee not only won the Palme d’Or at Cannes but is also enjoying some homegrown respect that has thus far eluded Weersethakul's films. After bitter battles with the Thai censors over his past films, Weerasethakul deservedly saw Uncle Boonmee pass the ratings board and open in his homeland to sold out crowds. Taking place in the northeastern Thai town of Nabua, the setting of a violent Army crackdown on communists in 1965, Uncle Boonmee is drawn from a book Weerasethakul acquired from a Buddhist monk. A film that Kong Rithdee calls “a meta-thesis on cinema and its power to create illusion,” Uncle Boonmee may also have the momentum to allow Weersethakul, who works worlds beyond the narrative modus operandi, to expand his mesmerizing spell beyond the arthouse hardcore.