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Cannes Palme d'or review: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

The security to get into the film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives from Thailand at the Palais was extremely tight.  When you are at Cannes one feels cut off from outside news. Yet we had heard of the burning of two theatres in Thailand during the latest protests. That situation and this movie, make other films we have seen here almost surreal.

Uncle Boonmee is a story of ghosts and Buddhist ritual. It is set in modern day in the country where a man is preparing to die.  His deceased wife's sister comes to be with him. She normally lives in the city. Uncle Boonmee's deceased wife returns as a ghost who remain youthful to assist him in his transition.  She materializes and takes part in family activities. Ghosts are a major tradition in Thai society. Even the doors in there homes are constructed in such a way as to prevent ghosts from entering unbidden. His son returns in the form of a gorilla, and there are tones of the different layers of animal life being connected to nature, as well as humanity.

There is a sequence in the film about a princess who travels to a magical hidden waterfall. She is suffering from a disfiguring disease that scars her face. There are some beautiful shots of rocks and caverns, and waterfalls. One of the servants in her retinue is drawn to her but she distrusts his advances because he is a servant and she is of royalty. She enters the water and surrenders her gold jewelry as she wades ever deeper into the pool towards the waterfall. When the princess sees her reflection in the surface of the water as a much younger beautiful woman. She is approached by a talking catfish. She accepts the catfish's belief in her beauty, as he sees her.  She seems reborn in there merging. She gives herself to the water.

The writer-director Apicatpong Weerasethakul has made a lovely film to look at, filled with symbolism, and revealing the layers of a country and a city dealing with immigration, riots, and discontent.  Everyone seems to search for answers.  This is a time of great change. A robed monk showers at his sister's home, and changes into blue jeans to go out and have a dinner. There are flashing colored lights in the temple where people worship.

Not an easy film for most audiences to stick with, as so many left the theatre, but for those who stayed the film was appreciated and there was applause.

by Marla Lewin

Synopsis:

Suffering from acute kidney failure, Uncle Boonmee has chosen to spend his final days surrounded by his loved ones in the countryside. Surprisingly, the ghost of his deceased wife appears to care for him, and his long lost son returns home in a non-human form. Contemplating the reasons for his illness, Boonmee treks through the jungle with his family to a mysterious hilltop cave -- the birthplace of his first life...

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