Earlier this year, I enthusiastically reviewed Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s beautiful, hypnotic, Magical Realist fantasy Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. It won the coveted Palme d’Or at 2010’s Cannes Film Festival, but even among festival circuit cineastes there were those who decried it as unfocused and opaque. For me, the film—and all of Apichatpong’s work—can be difficult, but his unpretentious, meditative pace rewards the viewer who works to connect his images. Now that the film has come out in a sumptuous Blu-ray release, more will have the opportunity to explore Uncle Boonmee. The clarity of the film’s deep, dark jungle hues are no surprise, but the near 30 minutes of deleted scenes are a revelation, offering insight into elements of the story left unspoken in the finished film.
Perhaps most revealing is a series of scenes involving the scarred princess, seen in the film communing with a catfish. The princess and various other beings in the film seemed to represent past lives of Uncle Boonmee, but we’re never told for sure. The narration of these deleted scenes, however, confirms this interpretation, as Boonmee describes his feelings as the princess, as if recounting a dream. Perhaps he’s sharing with his family a revelation he achieved while meditating, alluded to in yet another excerpt.
Like the best filmmakers, Apichatpong must have felt that no explanation was needed to convey the spirituality and magic of his world. Rather, he coyly and systematically excised references to the past lives mentioned in the film’s title.
Other treats that await Apichatpong fans are segments that showcase the auteur’s strength at capturing the pulsing life behind all of nature. Like The Tree of Life (2011’s only better film), Uncle Boonmee seeks to collapse all of life and articulate the fabric that unites it – from the water buffalo that opens the film, to the ancient princess, to the mysterious apemen that stalk the jungle outside. To that end, Apichatpong filmed a sequence entitled Protozoa, a microscopic drama of floating amoebas and vibrant cellular life, which adds another layer to his patchwork of existence. The images remind me of The Tree of Life’s creation sequence, which achieves a similar abstract beauty on a macro scale. In a more artistic expression of the same idea, Apichatpong offers a haunting, slow tracking shot through a cave, flickering strobes illuminating the dramatic cavern topography. This primordial light show seems to represent the spirit of the cave itself (described by Boonmee as a womb), as the specter of places is not outside Apichatpong’s conceptualization of life.
While the complete film that won the Palme d’Or is a quietly stunning and wholly satisfying piece, these deleted scenes simply attest to the coherence of Apichatpong’s vision and his ability to discover and capture echoes of that vision wherever they arise.