Monday, February 1, 2010
A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (2009) A Short Film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
The jungle is shockingly alive and direct in Apichatpong Weerasethakul's new short film A Letter to Uncle Boonmee, a fragment in "Joe"'s multi-part art piece Primitive. Its unfettered power bursts down the boundaries between the domestic and the natural, the internal and the external, in a small, extinct village called Nabua in the Northeast of Thailand. Decades ago, Nabua was home to a brutal police invasion that lead most of its inhabitants (Communist farmers) to either flee from their intimate cabins or bear witness to violent captures. Now Joe's swooping, weightless camera peruses the abandoned houses of the long-gone townspeople searching for ephemera from their life there, time-worn traces of the past. We glimpse ruffled coats, portraits on the walls, and mosquito nets, frozen in their positions as the materiality of the cabin decomposes around them. The perpetually ajar windows clatter against the slit-holed wooden walls and allow the unpredictability of nature to invade the once-comforting living spaces.
Joe's film is enormously tactile in both its evocative imagery and its dense, atmospheric surround-sound (watch this one with the best possible speakers), allowing us to float through the physical spaces of the film but also through time, as the repetitive narration is the rehearsal of a letter being written to the titular Uncle Boonmee by a group of leisurely Thai soldiers who are digging in the village. Its redundancy, paired with the fact that each new reading is by a new voice and accompanied by images from a new cabin, suggests the reincarnation of Boonmee, a familiar theme for Joe. His life in Nabua is emulated in the lives we learn about through the souvenirs of time present in all of the rooms. A Letter to Uncle Boonmee is an unexpectedly tranquil short film, an affirmation of the kind of director I expected Joe would become after seeing Syndromes and a Century. It's also a work which one especially cannot do justice to without paying tribute to its remarkable images, so I present to you, unedited, a whole string of them...