Facing the jungle, the hills and vales, my past lives as an animal and other beings rise up before me. -- inscription at the head of "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives"
I am head-over-heels in love with "Uncle Boonmee."
Apichatpong "Joe" Weerasethakul's "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" is the kind of movie that big screens (theatrical and HD) and Blu-ray were made for. I can't think of cinematic worlds more "immersive" (in current 3D parlance) than Apichatpong's last three features, "Tropical Malady" (2004), "Syndromes and a Century" (2006) and "Uncle Boonmee" (2010) -- all of which I have only recently encountered. (They're all on DVD, and "Uncle Boonmee" is now opening in U.S. theaters and is available on Region 2 Blu-ray.)¹
Talk about blissful: Apichatpong's pictures (say that five times real fast) are awake and alive to the joy of existence like few others I've seen. Sorry if that sounds too, you know, giddily "life-affirming," but I feel like Joe's movies sharpen and expand my senses while I'm watching them -- not unlike the peak experiences/memories I've had in the garden, or walking in the woods with my dogs, when I feel I'm living more intensely, soaking up more of the life within and around me. And in the case of these movies, there's the added thrill of Joe framing it all! What can I say? Apichatpong movies make me very happy. (They're really funny, too.)
Few other films or filmmakers have stirred this kind of awe-mixed-with-happiness in me. Seeing "2001: A Space Odyssey" at age 11 was the first time I can recall. (Joe's last three films have reminded me of various sections of that movie, in which you feel you're experiencing something both primally human and alien at the same time.) Wim Wenders' "Kings of the Road" also explores what I called, upon first seeing it in the late 1970s, "the strange familiarity of unfamiliar places" -- that feeling of entering a/the world that's both new and intimately recognizable, uncanny and ordinary. I get it from the Coens sometimes -- in "No Country for Old Men" and "A Serious Man," especially -- and Terrence Malick ("Days of Heaven," "The New World") taps into it occasionally, too. It has something to do with the light, the air, the shapes, the sounds, the extraordinary mythology of the everyday seen with new eyes (yours, through Joe's).
Apichatpong Weerasethakul's latest movie "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" scored some points from me at the beginning. After the enigmatic opening sequence featuring a cow and the jungle shrouded in strange atmosphere, the following sequence with a car going along some country road drew my attention. The land was different, the trees and plants surrounding the road were also different, and the climate was also different, but the mood was somehow familiar to me.
It was not different from what I remember from our family's occasional short journey to my grandmother's country village. We also went there by a car, we also went along a paved country road, and I used to pensively look at the landscape outside car while a little bored in backseat.