Brisbane International Film Festival: Day 1

Sarah Ward November 6, 2010 0

To the joy of cinephiles across Queensland, the 19th annual Brisbane International Film Festival is now officially underway. Although The Reel Bits sadly missed opening night, stay tuned for coverage of as many of the 101 features as we can possibly manage, starting with two titles from the first full day of the program – 2010 Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and the Allen Ginsberg biopic Howl.

The first Asian piece to win the coveted Palme d’Or since Shohei Imamura’s The Eel in 1997, and based on the non-fiction book “A Man Who Can Recall His Past Lives” (inspired by a man named Boonmee, who advised Buddist abbot Phra Sripariyattiweti of his ability to remember his previous existence while meditating), Weerasethakul’s feature discards the biographical approach to linger on the personal aspects of the spiritual story. Dying from a kidney ailment, farmer Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) reunites with an apparition of his deceased wife (Natthakarn Aphaiwong), the animal form of his missing son (Jeerasak Kulhong), his skeptical sister-in-law (Jenjira Pongpas) and questioning nephew (Sakda Kaewbuadee), to lament upon his lives – present, past and future. Transcending form, transforming from animal to human and man to woman, Boonmee explores his connection to the physical (his illness) and the metaphysical (his sense of being).

Unconstrained by traditional narrative conventions, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is weird and wonderful, quirky and quaint, and meditative and mystical in equal measures. Toying with life and death through the juxtaposition of illusions and reality, the film combines six shooting styles (one per reel of film) into a finished product that is both captivating and serene. Although potentially too whimsical to regale mass audiences, Weerasethakul’s third installment in a loosely-formed multi-platform art project (including short films A Letter To Uncle Boonmee and Phantoms Of Nabua) is a rewarding and challenging piece of cinema. A floating, otherworldly Thai story that considers the mortality of all things, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives captures the spirit of contemplation and the mood of reflection, in a poetic and immersive viewing experience.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives screens again on November 7, 2010 at the Brisbane International Film Festival.

The time is 1955, the place San Francisco, and the man Allen Ginsberg, the Beat poet who defied the establishment to define the rage of a generation. Writing his seminal work “Howl” partly as a performance piece, partly as a way to exorcise the thoughts in his head that he wouldn’t want his father to hear, his words would go on to inspire and inflame, earning the respect of many and the outrage of many more. Combining court records, interview transcripts, and the content of Ginsberg’s poems, Rob Epstein’s and Jeffrey Friedman’s feature Howl explores the debut of, and outcry against, the text that gives the film its name. Featuring a fantastic performance from James Franco (Eat Pray Love) alongside a cast that includes John Hamm (The Town), David Strathairn (Cold Souls) and Mary-Louise Parker (RED), Howl expands upon the man, the message and the mass reaction to his mantra that would change the face of the blooming Beat movement.

Fascinating from the opening scene to the closing titles, Howl incorporates three crucial elements that form the core of the impact of the poet’s work. Re-creating the Six Gallery recital of the melodic verse (with accompanying animated sequences that bring Ginsberg’s words to life), delving into personal history pertinent to the prose, and re-enacting the infamous 1957 obscenity trial that brought the question of literary value out into the open, the film paints a vivid picture of the artist, merging the thematic troika to craft an experimental yet evocative biopic. Buoyed by the dual directors’ commitment to encapsulating the essence of the iconoclastic subject, the resulting feature is celebratory and insightful, boosted by Franco’s ambitious effort in the lead role. A film with the ability to introduce the beatnik spirit to a new generation of hipsters, Howl is an important, intellectual and imaginative cinematic work.

Howl screens again on November 13, 2010 at the Brisbane International Film Festival.

The Brisbane International Film Festival continues until November 14, 2010.

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