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13May/11

BLISSFULLY THAI — UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Palme d’Or winner is a subtly beautiful meditation on death and rebirth, memory and transformation

UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES (LUNG BOONMEE RALUEK CHAT) (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010)
Asia Society
725 Park Ave. at 70th St.
Sunday, May 22, $7, 5:00
Series runs May 13 - June 17
212-288-6400
www.asiasociety.org

Winner of last year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes, Thai writer-director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is an elegiac meditation on memory, transformation, death, and rebirth, a fascinating integration of the human, animal, and spirit worlds. Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) is dying of kidney failure, being tended to by his Laotian helper, Jaai (Samud Kugasang). Boonmee is joined by his dead wife’s sister, Jen (Jenjira Pongpas), in his house in the middle of the jungle. Boonmee and Jen have nearly impossibly slow conversations that seem to go nowhere, just a couple of very simple people not expecting much excitement out of what’s left of their lives. Even when Boonmee’s long-dead wife, Huay (Natthakarn Aphaiwonk), and his long-missing son, Boonsong (Geerasak Kulhong), now a hairy ghost monkey covered in black fur and with two laserlike red eyes, suddenly show up, Boonmee and Jen pretty much just go with the flow. Weerasethakul maintains the beautifully evocative pace whether Jaai is draining Boonmee’s kidney, the characters discuss Communism, Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee) questions his monkhood, a princess (Wallapa Mongkolprasert) has sex with a catfish, or they all journey to a cave in search of another of Boonmee’s past lives. The film, which was shot in 16mm and was inspired by a 1983 book called A Man Who Can Recall His Past Lives, is part of the Primitive Project, Weerasethakul’s multimedia installation that also includes the short films A Letter to Uncle Boonmee and Phantoms of Nabua. Weerasethakul, who gained a growing international reputation with such previous works as Blissfully Yours (2002), Tropical Malady (2004), and Syndrome and a Century (2006) and has a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Khon Kaen University and an MFA in filmmaking from the Art Institute of Chicago, is a master storyteller who continues to challenge viewers with his unique visual language and subtly effective narrative techniques.

Uncle Boonmee is being shown May 22 as part of Asia Society’s “Blissfully Thai” film series, with Weerasethakul participating in a Q&A following the screening. The series begins May 13 with Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Ploy (followed by a Q&A with the director) and continues with Mingmongkol Sonakul’s I-San Special on May 20, Yongyoot Thongkongtoon’s The Iron Ladies on May 26, Ratanaruang’s Mon-Rak Transistor on June 3, Wisit Sasanatieng’s Tears of the Black Tiger on June 10, Aditya Assarat’s Hi-So on June 11 (followed by a Q&A with actress Cerise Leang), and Weerasethakul’s Blissfully Yours on June 17. Weerasethakul and Ratanaruang will also take part in a special discussion about the past, present, and future of Thai filmmaking on May 14 at 2:00, followed by a reception with the artists.

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