There are times when I just don’t ‘get’ highly-acclaimed movies and why they have won so many accolades and why people describe them with words such as ‘lyrical’ or ‘poetic’. One of such films is Roy Andersson’s Songs from the Second Floor (Sånger fran andra våningen). I watched it when I was still in Singapore and although one of my friends raved about it, I came out and thought that it was one of the most absurd and bizarre films I had ever seen.
I had a similar moment today when I saw Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. I was attracted to the movie in the first place as it was awarded the Palme d’Or from the Cannes Film Festival last year. Thus, the first three movies in my selection for 2011 Bigpond Adelaide Film Festival are films that have won awards or are nominated for major awards. So along with In a Better World that wins the 2011 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language movie – which I enjoyed immensely – I have also seen The Illusionist, which was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Film in the 2011 Academy Awards.
I should’ve just walked out of the theatre after the first three minutes of the movie were spent showing a water buffalo escaping, galloping through the fields and then resting in the jungle. I stayed on as I thought I would be rewarded with an enriching cinematic experience. I was wrong. Maybe I think in a different wavelengths to the Cannes jury members or to the esteemed critics in Rottentomatoes. They seem to rave about it and think that it’s wonderful and poetic – an overall great movie.
I thought what caused them to think as such? The scene of a low-esteemed princess copulating with catfish in a pond? Or the appearance of a long-lost son who has turned into a monkey ghost because he escaped to the jungle wanting to take pictures with his Pentax camera? The movie is a mishmash of unrelated scenes and confusing storylines – maybe my eastern background has anaesthesised my perceptions against looking at the movie with wide-eye wonderment and thinking that it is exotic or poetic. I just don’t get it. Even the premise of the story is less clear – it is about a certain lady (Jen) and a nephew (Tong) who travel to the country to be with Uncle Boonmee who’s dying of kidney failure. Then the long-dead wife (Huay) suddenly appears around the dinner table, then the long-lost son (Boonsong) appears – as a monkey ghost. It could’ve been turned into something beautiful and surreal like Tim Burton’s Big Fish – unfortunately I think I have wasted 114 minutes of my life.
Were the Cannes jury on drugs or something?