Apichatpong Weerasethakul made an appearance at the recently wrapped-up Toronto International Film Festival, where his film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives was in the Masters program and the filmmaker took part TIFF's Mavericks.
You can watch excerpts from Apichatpong's Mavericks interview with Dennis Lim on YouTube, in which the filmmaker charms the audience and provoked laughter with his warm, witty and weird sense of humor.
Apichatpong explained his love for hospitals (he says one in Toronto is so beautiful it made him wish he was sick), talked a bit about his grand plans for his ambitious science-fiction project Utopia and revealed a possible DVD extra for Uncle Boonmee that involves the Catfish Princess and her pregnancy worries.
Uncle Boonmee has now begun a regular theatrical run at TIFF's new permanent home, the Bell Lightbox, a place that had film critic Roger Ebert reflecting, "A guy like me, I can see retiring to a condo in the TIFF Bell Lightbox and just going to movies."
There's loads of coverage of Uncle Boonmee in Toronto's media: Eye Weekly, the Globe and Mail, Now Toronto, Metro News, The Star and The Sun.
There's an interview in The Sun and a particularly good one at at CTV, in which he talks about "karma, conflict and good intentions":
But there's enough room left in their brief exchange for doubt. Is it really alright? Is it false hope that the forces of karma considered their intention when they took a sentient being's life, whether insect, animal, or communist? Joe says it's a conflict deeply embedded in the consciousness of Thailand, where Buddhist principles are steeped since birth.
Joe talks of other Buddhist and Thai beliefs he struggles with. "For example, in Thailand and other parts of Asia, the feet are considered the lowest part of the body, physically and spiritually. The head is the most highly-respected part. So if I point my feet at you, it's considered very rude," he said.
"I cannot shed this idea, even though I know it's nonsense," he added.
His feet were pointed toward the wall; mine were aimed directly at him like a pair of daggers. I shifted them to the left, away from Joe, even though I also knew it was nonsense.
"It's so ingrained in my behaviour and the fact that it makes me feel guilty if I do it," said Joe, giving a small example of the struggle that many Thais feel, whether after using their feet to point or coming to terms with the violence in their history.
"This type of struggle reflects a difficult situation in the‘70s because during that time, with the student uprisings, there were a lot of killings and many people struggled with the concept of ‘killing communists is not the same.'"
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives has meanwhile moved on. It's playing this weekend at the 48th New York Film Festival, where it makes the short list in The Wall Street Journal as well as Capital New York. There's a recent review at Labuza Movies and at This Week in New York.
On his blog Some Came Running, critic Glenn Kenny offers Some brief notes toward constructing a user's manual for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. He starts out saying:
A couple of night before the New York Film Festival press screening of this picture, I was trying to prep a friend who would also be attending, and whose first Apichatong Weerasethakul this was to be. Bearing my impressions of Weerasethakul's great, but resistant-to-standard-film-critical-thought-and-vocabulary prior feature Syndromes and a Century in mind, I advised her: "Okay, so dip into a little early to middle-period John Ashbery. Then subtract the self-conscious intellectualism. Then add Thailand. Then drop the resting heart rate. Then, think film.Then subtract linearity, again." After the screening, my friend told me that, despite this picture being more linear than expected, my prep work had in fact been useful, and that the film was even greater than that!
A couple other observations by Kenny: "It's not really all about the talking catfish" and "Yes, the monkey-man suit is below 2001: A Space Odyssey par. I believe that's deliberate."
Savvy New Yorkers could have further prepped for Past Lives by catching the prequel of sorts, A Letter to Uncle Boonmee, which was playing at the Museum of Modern Art as part of MoMA's ContemporAsian film series alongside three other Asian shorts: Madam Butterfly by Tsai Ming Liang, Cry Me a River by Jia Zhang-ke and Lost in the Mountains by Hong Sang-soo. I was there, and what a cool experience it was to see this oddball collection of shorts with a New York audience.
Past Lives has many other film festival appearances lined up, including London and Sitges, where it's among the gala screenings.
Closer to home, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is among the selection of the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival (October 22 to November 8) and it's the gala opener of Tokyo Filmex (November 20-28), where Apichatpong is serving on the jury of Tokyo Filmex's first competition program.
Finally, Apichatpong has moved on from Uncle Boonmee, sort of. He was commissioned to make the one-minute trailer that's become a tradition of the Vienna International Film Festival. Veering towards science fiction, the clip also visits a cave, a place that I'm pretty sure was also used in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. You can watch it at the Viennale website and it's also been uploaded to YouTube.
Oh, have you ever wanted to hear how Apichatpong Weerasethakul's (อภิชาติพงศ์ วีระเศรษฐกุล) name is pronounced? Although his Thai friends call him Joei and he encourages Westerners to just call him "Joe", it's really not all that difficult. You can listen at Forvo and even download an MP3 soundbyte.
(Thanks for contributions from Jim Emerson, Film Business Asia, Love HK Film, The Daily MUBI and Animate Projects)