Cannes winner Apichatpong: a surreal Thai outsider

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Thailand's Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the surprise winner Sunday of the top prize at Cannes, has built a career with mysterious dream-like movies that shun traditional narrative techniques.

The 39-year-old works outside the strict confines of his country's action-film studio system to make movies such as the surreal reincarnation tale "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" that won the Palme d'Or.

Apichatpong has become a regular at Cannes, where in 2002 he won an award in a sidebar competition for "Blissfully Yours" and two years later took the jury prize with "Tropical Malady."

The latter was a two-parter that begins as a city love story between a soldier and a farm worker before switching to a frenzy of sex and death in the jungle.

The jungle also plays a prominent role in "Uncle Boonmee," a dreamlike film set in the bush of northeast Thailand that delves into reincarnation, politics and myth.

Apichatpong, who calls himself Joe for short, said after receiving the Cannes award from festival jury president Tim Burton that he wanted to thank "the spirits in Thailand that surrounded us" while making the film.

He said during the festival that he personally has seen ghosts.

His hauntingly beautiful movie sees a lost son return as a man-size monkey ghost, a disfigured princess have sex with a talking catfish and a dead wife return to gently guide her husband into the afterlife.

The Hollywood Reporter film magazine said that the director's work was based on the philosophy of reincarnation "as all beings coexisting in one non-linear universal consciousness."

That view is "central to Apichatpong's conception of cinema as the medium with the power to replay past lives and connect the human world to animal or spiritual ones," it said.

Apichatpong, who also makes installations and music videos, was born in Bangkok to doctor parents and grew up in northeastern Thailand before going on to study in both Thai and US universities.

He began making short films at the age of 24 and in 2000 delivered his first feature, "Mysterious Object at Noon," which mixes improvised narrative with documentary footage.

He has his own production company called "Kick the Machine Films."

Apichatpong used his trip to Cannes to denounce his country's tough censorship rules. He told reporters there that "Uncle Boonmee" was a parable "on a cinema that's also dying or dead."

"But you cannot blame Thai film-makers," he said. "They cannot do anything because of these censorship laws."

The film-maker said he flew out of Bangkok "as the city was burning," a reference to the two months of political crisis in the capital that has left 86 dead and 1,900 injured.

"Thailand is a violent country," he said. "It's controlled by a group of mafia."

© 2010 AFP

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