Monday, May 24, 2010

Cannes 2010: Apichatpong and his Uncle Boonmee win the Palme d'Or

A drama that involves a monkey ghost with glowing red eyes, an uncle who's dying of kidney disease and a princess having sex with a talking catfish, won the Palme d'Or at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (ลุงบุญมีระลึก ชาติ, Lung Boonmee Raleuk Chat) was the second win for director Apichatpong Weerasethakul in the main competition at Cannes. He won the jury prize in 2004 for Tropical Malady and won Cannes' second-tier Un Certain Regard competition in 2002 with Blissfully Yours. Uncle Boonmee is the first Thai film to win the top prize at what's arguably the planet's most prestigious film event.

"This is like another world for me, coming off the set [that is] full of jungle. So this is surreal," Apichatpong said.

"I would like to kiss all of you ... especially Tim Burton. I really like your hair style," he said, thanking the jury president and the panel. Burton totally blushed, according to film journalist Eric Kohn. Apichatpong himself served on the Cannes jury in 2008.

"And I would like to send message back home: The prize is for you," he said. "And also I'd like to thank all the spirits and the ghosts in Thailand. They make it possible for me to be here."

He also thanked his parents for taking him to his first movie. "I was so young, I didn't know what is on the screen ... With this award, I think I know a little more what cinema is but still it remains a mystery. And I think this mystery [is what keeps] us coming back here to share our world. And it'll be a long time [before] we discover the real power to crack the code."

Asked about the jury’s choice, Burton initially cut the discussion short, saying, “We’ve been talking about it all day, so we really don’t want to talk about it anymore,” he's quoted as saying by IndieWire. Pressed further, he added: “It’s like a beautiful, strange dream that you don’t see very often.”

The Cannes jury this year was headed by Burton with the panel comprised of film expert Alberto Barbera, actress Kate Beckinsale, writer Emmanuel Carrere, actor Benicio Del Toro, composer Alexandre Desplat, director Victor Erice, director Shekhar Kapur and actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno. A chair was kept open for a 10th panel member – jailed Iranian director Jafar Panahi.

The Grand Prix went to Des Hommes et Ds Dieux (Of Gods and Men) by Xavier Beauvois. Another film that garnered positive buzz was A Screaming Man (Un Homme Qui Crie) by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun from Chad. Giving a nod to Africa, the film won the jury prize. Check Mubi for the full list of winners.

Screening on Friday, Uncle Boonmee emerged as a darkhorse favorite for the Palme d'Or in a year that was widely seen as lackluster. Buzz about the Boonmee was overwhelmingly favorable, with mainstream reviews ranging from praiseworthy to not-so-excited. Press-room wags dubbed it Uncle Bonghit, according to Salon. Generally, Uncle Boonmee has been noted as the director's most accessible, most narrative work to date.

The director arrived in Cannes for Friday's screening after being delayed in Bangkok, where his passport had been trapped, awaiting stamps in the British Embassy, which had been closed because of the political protests. Issued a special passport, he was heading to the airport last Wednesday as the red-shirt anti-government protests culminated in a deadly crackdown by the Thai military that led to rioting and arson attacks in parts of the city. Ironically, one of the buildings that burned down was the Siam Theatre, which in the past had screened Apichatpong's Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady.

The events in Bangkok heavily weighed on Apichatpong's statements to the press in Cannes, and he also had sharp words against the Thai government for its censorship of films. His previous film, 2006's Syndromes and a Century (which premiered at the Venice fest), had six seemingly innocuous scenes cut by censors who deemed them offensive to various institutions in Thailand, including the Thai medical establishment (both of Apichatpong's parents are physicians) and Buddhism.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is inspired by a sermon book by Phra Sripariyattiweti, a Buddhist monk in Apichatpong's hometown of Khon Kaen. The director made it the feature-film component of his Primitive art project, which explores the concepts of memory and transformation in Thailand's rural northeast. The art project also includes a massive seven-channel video installation that has been shown in Munich, Liverpool and Paris, as well as two other stand-alone short films, A Letter to Uncle Boonmee and Phantoms of Nabua, which won the first Asia Art Award.

The feature was shot on Super 16mm and is imbued with Apichatpong's nostalgia for the movies of his childhood. "The film became more of a memory of old cinema ... very antique. The acting, the lighting, is in a very old style," he told The Nation in an interview last month.

After Cannes, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives next heads to the Sydney Film Festival, and many, many other festival screenings will likely follow around the globe over the next year or more. It's uncertain when and where it will be screened in Thailand.

Update: His entire thank-you speech is at Nanoguy's blog.

(Reuters photos via Yahoo! News)

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