A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2009) January 20, 2010Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Short Cuts.
Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Cast: Kumgieng Jittamaat, Miti Jittamaat, Phetmongkol Chantawong
The camera moves like a phantom, not that I have seen one, but if a phantom moves like a human being then there is no reason to call it a phantom in the first place. So ascribing its movement to a phantom’s seems fit; how it glides, roves, and circumvents; sometimes even floats from the ground. What it sees is different from what it captures, for Apichatpong is able to personify the camera with non-human qualities—something less human in layman’s terms—and share exuberant glimpses of the house in Nabua through its mobility. It is A Letter to Uncle Boonmee‘s distinct quality, as well as other Apichatpong’s films: locomotion. For locomotion is not just about a movement of location; it is also about a movement of time, a twitch of reincarnation, and a reoccurrence of possibilities. Hence the origin of the word: locomotive + motion. The subjects are the locomotives and Apichatpong does their motion, driving them toward some memory through a telepathic grapevine of sorts, the political past blurred but still there, like a faded photograph grayed by time. The memento remains; the hurt lingers; but they are no longer obvious. And us viewers, we say the images are beautiful, the rhetoric is magnificent, the ethereal quality of the film overwhelms; but how come we tend to tolerate Apichatpong as he turns the nightmare of military occupation into such drifting experience? Knowing the history of the place, how can we be deceived? How come the intrinsic quality of the film overwhelms its source, which in itself is blankly mystifying? Apichatpong’s aesthetic, like any great fiction, bewilders, to the point that after watching it the second time I felt there were things missing, things I failed to see again, images that were lost, scenes that got pregnant and were conceived without me noticing. The sound is integral too, especially when it gets pitched and turns silent, sashaying like the visuals. Looking back on A Letter to Uncle Boonmee‘s roots, it is revealing that our farmers have the most stories to tell and yet they are the quietest. These farmers had died; but their stories, and even their spirits, had stayed. When people become things, that’s when they affect more, the tropical malady seems to say. But then beyond is where Apichatpong is going; and beyond is where he has always been.