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Shortcomings and Award-Winners

June 17, 2010

Still from Apichatpong Weerasethakuls "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives"It took this blog over three weeks to report on the fact that one of the key film makers in Southeast Asia has won the Golden Palm in Cannes: Apichatpong Weerasethakuls “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”.

It is the first time, that a director from the region wins this award (after Brilliante Mendoza won an award for best director last year), and I was busy grading student papers. Sorry. It would have been a good opportunity to rhapsodize about the international rise of Southeast Asian independent cinema.

I don’t even have the time to gather links to other articles on this historic event, so one link to a lovely article in the Bangkok Post has to suffice. For a comprehensive list, there is the ever reliable WiseKwai.

To make up for this, here are some quotes from an interview with “Joe” that I did last year, when he was shooting the film. The subject of the interview was his installation in Munich’s Haus der Kunst that contained some footage, that apparently is included in the film.

Baumgärtel: Are your installations like the one you are showing in Munich right now, a work in themselves, or are they kind of a first sketches for feature films?

Weerasethakul: Some are works in their own right. But the piece in Munich, that is called “Primitive Project”, has many elements: an installation, an artist’s book, photographs, a short film, and eventually a feature film. So now we are raising funds for the feature film version. It will be different from the installation, but the concept is there. It is about the history of Northeast Thailand where I grew up. In the installation, we focused on a small village near the Mekong River where the government during the 1960s and 1970s hunted suspected communists down. The feature film is focused on a man who was repeatedly born in that region. The whole project is about remembering the past of the region. I would like to make a document and a representation of that region, and dedicate it to the people of that part of Thailand.

Baumgärtel: How did you come across this man that you are featuring in the film?

Weerasethakul: Uncle Boonmee is an actual person, who used to live in a city not far from my home town Khon Kaen. He came to meditate at the temple near my home. A monk talked to him, and got his story, and wrote a small pocket book on him called “The man who can recall his past life” that I found at the temple. It is not very well known in Thailand, but this book really inspired me because this man stubbornly got reborn in the same area, which is a very difficult place to live – there were all these political operations, the weather, the economy. So I got very curious about that man, who stays here. We hope to shoot it by the end of the year. It is about this guy, who has 48 hours to live, and that is all the time he has to tell his story that he has experienced for centuries. So the film is very condensed and very intense in terms of narrative. The story is told from multiple points of view, before he passes away.

Baumgärtel: Why were you interested in this man who remembers his previous incarnations?

Weerasethakul: First of all, I am a Buddhist, so I believe in reincarnation. I also believe that many things in my region Khon Kaen will disappear soon, the folktales and the customs and many of the precious things I grew up with.

Baumgärtel: I would have thought that a Buddhist just takes these changes as they come…

Weerasethakul: Yes, I know. It is also contradictory to the nature of cinema. (laughs)

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