A pichatpong Weerasethakul’s new film is as arch and tedious as any I’ve had the misfortune to catch during the bourgeois cineaste wallow that is Cannes in May. With it’s glacial pace, long static shots and whispered, largely indecipherable dialogue Uncle Boonmee manages to test its audience in rare and extremely boring ways. I agree with L’Express’ critic Eric Libiot when he notes that the film ‘never goes beyond the theoretical intentions of the director and uses dramatic arbitrariness as an artistic posture.’
The 40-year-old Weerasethakul has long been a festival favourite and it’s not difficult to see why. He’s from a privileged background (he has degrees in architecture and fine art), he is obsessed with his own homosexuality, has a thing about nature, folklore, fairytales and magic realism and works outside the strict Thai studio system. His equally trying previous films Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady can best be described as exercises in pantheistic homoeroticism, well a kind of anaemic appropriation of that, anyway. On receiving the Palme d’Or Weerasethakul spoke of the serious current situation in his homeland and how he was depressed by the confrontation between different ideologies there, plus most gallingly he added: ‘I hope the news that Thailand has won an award for art and culture may help calm the situation.’ Really? Does he honestly think a highbrow award for his somnambulistic little film is really going to matter to those who are currently fighting tooth and nail to make sure Thailand doesn’t become another
BY DIT BEAUVOIS NO
Burma? Of course he doesn’t. The biggest hits at the Thai box office are comedies and if and when his film ever gets a theatrical release there, it will, like his previous films, die the death that only decadent and rarefied art can. Uncle Boonmee does have some moments of comedy. There’s a gorilla stricken by myxomatosis and a catfish capable of bringing a young lady to orgasm. It’s like a particularly pernicious Grimm fairytale directed by Emmanuelle director Just Jaeckin in his 1970s heyday. For years now Weerasethakul and his public school filmmaker mates Wisit Sasanatieng (Tears of the Black Tiger) and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Last Life in the Universe) have been banging on about the unfairness of censorship in Thailand in some misguided belief that what the poor uneducated sons of daughters of Siam really need is to see are two Buddhist monks copulating while getting drunk. But the poor box office performance of any of these filmmakers’ uncensored films in so-called educated countries like the UK proves that, controversy aside, they are really just the kind of frustrating projects that put people off going to foreign language films for ever. It was certainly slim pickings at Cannes this year and with Tim Burton heading up the jury the Palme d’Or was always going to be controversial. If only this year’s winner hadn’t been controversial in such a tedious and imperialist way. Uncle Boonmee is a film that says nothing and takes a very long time to say it – but as long as it makes the academic, the spoilt, the snobbish and the intellectually exclusive minority of cineastes happy then that’s OK then. Hang ‘em all high and hang ‘em long.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 19–Thu 25 Nov; GFT, Glasgow, Tue 14–Thu 16 Dec.
OOD? Slow-burning Thai film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives scooped the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, but critics can't decide whether it's poetically beautiful or deathly dull. Two List film writers take sides on the issue
Marty (1955) Paddy Chayefsky’s paper thin ‘oddball bachelor in search of love’ television drama was plainly remade by middle weight director Delbert Mann starring Rod Steiger. Pedestrian in the extreme.
The Knack . . . and How to Get It (1965) Director Richard Lester made this contrived comedy about the generation gap. It may have been radical in its day but it’s dated badly.
The Silent World (1956) Oceanographer Jacques Cousteau and French filmmaker Louis Malle use some dynamite and slaughter some sharks while peaking into the deep blue. The Best Intentions (1992) Written by Ingmar Bergman this tells the story of his parents’ lengthy and complex courtship. Very long and very yawn inspiring, the jury presumably nodded off and then felt. guilty.
18 Nov–2 Dec 2010 THE LIST 21