There have been at least three masterpieces among Twin Cities movie releases this year so far.
The first two — Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life and Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy — opened at Landmark Theaters.
The third played only once at the Walker, but now gets a second chance thanks to the Trylon Microcinema’s Premiere Tuesdays series.
It’s disheartening but not surprising that Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, which (like The Tree of Life) won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, hasn’t managed an official theatrical run here in the Twin Cities. Its murky, lugubrious pacing and F/X-free mysticism hardly scream across-the-board appeal. And that’s even before one checks out the plot description. (Check out this representative reviewer attempt to make literal sense of the movie.)
My advice? Drown out all white noise about what does or doesn’t happen in the movie. Though there are definite signposts one can take away from the movie — Uncle Boonmee stands at the precipice of exiting one life and potentially moving into another, and the ghosts of those he loves materialize to guide him — the movie’s spell is dependent on its becalmed tone, not its plot.
Weerasethakul (whose previous movies include the even greater Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century) has described the movie as his tribute to filmmaking as it stands — like Boonmee — at a transitional point between two different lives. To that end, the movie depicts various hybrid forms, like Boonmee’s son, who returns to him at night in the form of a ghost monkey with glowing red eyes (a moment Weerasethakul stages somewhere between supreme terror and deadpan comedy).
Reincarnation is the vehicle by which both the movie’s characters continue to exist, but oddly, it’s also exactly what the movie itself represents. More than once, Weerasethakul calls back to his previous movies, and the moments of déjà vu only serve to illustrate Uncle Boonmee’s moment of metamorphic clarity.
I know it all sounds heady and insufferable and pretentious. I guess it’s a pretty easy movie to defend in film school drip mode. But, trust me, I’m the pretentious drip here, not Weerasethakul. Surrender to Uncle Boonmee and be prepared to have your horizons expanded.