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Uncle Boonmee: An Explanation

Posted on Tuesday May 25, 2010, 23:14 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Uncle Boonmee: An Explanation

Although it hasn't exactly gone viral, I was amused to see that my (honest) Twitter reaction to Apichatpong Weerasethakul winning the Palme D'Or is being discussed on the net and that Facebook eyebrows have been raised. In retrospect, maybe it wasn't the smartest, most Wildean thing I could have said (um, “It is shit”; oops...), but it was a genuine, spontaneous reaction to a film that is, to my mind, being carried aloft by people with an agenda that can only take arthouse cinema into a cul de sac. I've read many reviews of Uncle Boonmee; all were kind in the extreme and none enlightened me one whit as to a) what actually happens in it and b) what any of it means. Those reviews were of the film I wanted to see before I went in and do not at all reflect the experience I had; I didn't think it was magical or mysterious, and neither did the 20 or so people I counted leaving – sorry, abandoning – the cinema. Their body language suggested a very reluctant defeat; I can assure you that few were pondering the mysteries of Thai culture and its rich mythologies, perhaps because it was a public screening and they didn't have the inclination (ie, weren't being paid) to do so.

Before Cannes I was aware that  Weerasethakul was an emerging talent: I didn't much like Tropical Malady or Mysterious Object At Noon but I figured there might be something there, which is why I made an effort to see Uncle Boonmee in the first place. I'm also aware of Weerasethakul's background as a fine artist, and I think fine art is the bracket into which his films belong. A director or technical prize wouldn't have bothered me, but what I can't fall in line with is the haughty Palme D'Or lobbyists, who mostly like this film for what it isn't rather than what it is.

We've seen from previous winners that this once prestigious award is perilously close to meaninglessness: from this world-renowned platform, The White Ribbon, the most exalted art movie of last year (and which I liked very much), fared dismally at the international box office, as did the excellent 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days. Compared to those films, the wilfully unintelligible Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (and hence must have seen you coming) is, to me, something of a PR disaster for the festival, a film that confirms the snobbish tastes of only an element of this year's Cannes attendees and bodes ill for an industry that has been riven into blockbusters and zero-budgeters by the recession, with little in between. I've noticed already that I've been painted as a Hollywood cheerleader, which will be somewhat ironic to people who know me, but the simple fact is this: I didn't like it, and I don't see why I have to.

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1 bojangles1971
Posted on Wednesday May 26, 2010, 13:34
Who ARE you?

2 smcrutt
Posted on Thursday June 3, 2010, 16:49
Nice to see people standing by their own opinions for once instead of liking what they have been told (or paid) to like!

Even if i disagree with them, i love that i can always count on Empire's honesty when it comes to films whether they be huge blockbusters or arthouse movies like this one!

3 Deviation
Posted on Monday June 21, 2010, 19:02
Damon, how can a film that made some 10 million worldwide and cost some 600,000 Euro be seen as a failure? Also, The White Ribbon to my knowledge brought its money back in its international release, which considering the nature of the film should be more than enough (and it will make more money on dvd for sure). I hardly see those as dismal numbers.

Also you can dislike Uncle Boonmee all you want, and I champion your honesty but calling a Festival snobbish for awarding a film you dislike is quite weird.

4 Damon_Wise
Posted on Thursday June 24, 2010, 16:28
Profitability and success are very different things! My concern is that, for all the praise that was heaped on it, very few people ever saw The White Ribbon. Compared to the acres of press I saw praising the film and interviewing Haneke, the returns were alarmingly disproportionate.

Also, i didn't say the festival itself was snobbish, I said that the award played into the hands of a snobbish element of the festival's attendees. The festival does stack the cards somewhat when it chooses the movies, and "Thai Joe" has been on their tip sheet for some years now. The point of this piece is really that the Palme D'Or doesn't mean a whole lot these days. Both the US and UK used to have a great appetite for foreign movies, but both those markets have seriously dwindled. In the meantime, factions within the arthouse world are busy championing films that don't have the slightest crossover potential and seem bent on taking alternative film culture into a cul de sac where art films really are as pretentious and vacuous as a 70s Monty Python sketch would have it. I'm just seriously concerned that while blockbusters are getting bigger and stupider, the arthouse alternatives are getting smaller and ever more impenetrable.

5 Deviation
Posted on Monday July 12, 2010, 00:59
Thanks for the answer.

Still, I am not sure, even with that article that The White Ribbon can be said as failing dismally, and I don't think the article said that. And for the coverage it had (or that I witnessed), 18 million worldwide (if Box Office Mojo can be trusted) still seems like it did good money (I am more shocked on A Prophet, which was hardly impenetrable). Plus I think it is certain that the film will keep selling on DVD for a long time to come.

And I misread your Cannes comment then, sorry, but it did seem to suggest that the Festival awarded the film out of snobbery. Again, I apologize for the misreading The Uncle Bonmee review is great btw, even if I am not sure why it is pretentious (but the meaning of that word and how it is used is most of the time lost on me, unless of course, it is not describing Revolver).

6 ghost monkey
Posted on Friday November 26, 2010, 00:24
smug shit

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