Who is the Thai director who doesn’t mind if you sleep in his movies?

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Apichatpong Weerasethakul may sound like a “letter soup” to most Brazilian viewers, and the director himself doesn’t mind the nickname “Joe” that he earned for his constant forays into the Cannes Film Festival. He returns to the French Riviera in 2021 to try to win the Palme d’Or for the second time with Memory – a film capable of drawing applause and yawns without the slightest problem.

The Thai had already caused weeping by winning the grand prize for the first time with Uncle Boome, Who Can Remember Their Past Lives (2010). The trophy was enough for him to leave the parallel circuit of university shows to gain space in more movie theaters, even though he was vehemently rejected on social networks.

The feature film was not unanimous even for critics, who summed it up as “nonsense”, “gross” or “mystical outbreak” to deal with a narrative that goes against almost all the rules and laws not only of Hollywood cinema, but also from the alternative scene in Europe and the United States.

After all, Weerasethakul doesn’t pay the slightest attention to the story, which seems more like a narrative scrap for someone who grew up accustomed to the rhythm and twists of the productions of the afternoon session. Or from Netflix, for those who were born when tube television was no longer a tangible reality.

No wonder it’s almost impossible to formulate a synopsis for Boome’s (Thanapat Saisaymar) drama. On the verge of death, he decides to join some family in a house in the forest, where he receives the help of the spirit of his wife and child, metamorphosed into another form of existence, to make the passage. And from there, the rest is history — pardon the pun.

Uncle Boome, Who Can Remember Past Lives

What to feel?

The film is not necessarily about the uncle’s death process, but about all the feelings and sensations that the farewell causes in him and in the world around him. Many of them are not intelligible by words or can even be described, which translates into images that may seem unusual for those who do not know Weerasethakul’s filmography.

Uncle Boome is even restrained next to other works, such as Mal dos Trópicos (2004) and Syndromes and Um Século (2007), which go even deeper into this aesthetic that critics and academia call “sensationism” —in which sensations, which even include sleep, take this privileged place in the narrative.

This trend is perhaps strongest within Asia, with names like Taiwanese Hou Hsiao-Hsien or Japanese Naomi Kawase, but it is far from being classed (prejudicedly) as yet another “exotic” phenomenon of an idealized “orient”.

Memory, by the way, has an asset to leave the French festival and manage to overcome the resistance of the spectators in the halls of “art cinema” in Brazil. With Tilda Swinton as its main face, the film could pierce this bubble of “exoticism” around the figure of Weerasethakul and prove that much of the previous reviews may have a background of prejudice.

In the end, you have to ask yourself: if the Thai director were a white man, would he not become as avant-garde (forward, in French) as the Danish Lars Von Trier or the American Terrence Mallik? An answer that Cannes, perhaps, cannot yet give.

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