‘APICHATPALME’ screams the headline from last month’s issue of Cinema Scope – something of a victory lap for the venerable underground Canadian institution, spearheaded by the delightfully surly and irascible Mark Peranson. Certainly, they’ve got as much right as anyone (more even) to triumphantly proclaim the first genuine experimental filmmaker to win a Palme d’Or in who knows how long – along with Denis and Tarr, Peransons’ crew has been pushing Lisandro Alonso, James Benning, Lav Diaz, Miguel Gomes, Albert Serra, Pedro Costa, Jia Zhangke and Jean Louis-Guerin long before most of us had ever even heard of them. Champions of the unknown, for sure, and we all owe them a little something for fighting the good fight, as well as doing quite a bit of festival leg work. In other words, if anyone deserves that victory lap, it’s Peranson and Co. The object in question is, of course, Mr. Apichatpong ‘Joe’ Weerasethakul, who’s most recent feature ‘Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives’ just walked off with (arguably) the most prestigious film prize in the world (that it was awarded by a jury headed by Tim Burton is subject to another essay altogether, rife with speculation as to the worn-out Disney shill/whimsy-as-corporate-trademark/man-child’s private motivations).
So is this the year that ‘Joe’ breaks out? It depends. As with most things, who and what you’ve been reading plays no small part. Weerasthakul is not only on his 5th feature film, but has made a number of digital shorts and gallery installations – and while this might not exactly garner the attention of Entertainment Weekly, it aint’ nuthin’ either. In other words, he’s been a major figure for some of us for quite a while. Conversely, the bestowal of the above mentioned, internationally recognized, ‘wow, that guy is hot shit’ trophy is bound to make just about anybody sit up and pay attention (if only for a minute or two). Peranson dubbed his 2010 Canne’s coverage ‘The Year We Made Contact’, a fitting title that suggests a couple of perspectives – not only that of himself and his magazine, but a more general section of cinephilia at large. And if we haven’t quite ‘made contact’ with the mainstream (something that neither Peranson nor Weerasthakul could give a shit about), it’s a shot across the bow nonetheless. More than a few entities have reported on ‘Toronto Star’ critic Peter Howell’s dismissive thoughts on the award winning director after the announcement of the top prize: Scott Foundas expounds: ‘In a jeremiad so hostile to the very notion of alternative cinema that it could have been bought and paid for by a major studio, … Howell assailed Apichatpong’s film for being “so resolutely uncommercial, even Thais can’t figure it out”… He then went on to tsk-tsk Burton for “one of the most political and cynical moves ever from a Cannes jury,” which evidently “wanted to show how cool and cutting-edge they were” by awarding the kind of film destined to be “shunted off to single-screen art houses” and “play to tiny audiences and miniscule box office receipts before vanishing from the minds of all but film critics and the most adventurous of regular film-goers”. Another year, same as the last – I’m reminded of a long chapter in Rosenbaum’s ‘Movie Wars’, in which he chronicles David Cronenberg’s battle against Harvey Weinstein during the 1999 Cannes Festival; Cronenberg was required to defend himself for awarding top prizes to the Dardenne Bros’ ‘Rosetta’, as well as its non-professional cast, while Weinstein bitched and moaned about the festival not recognizing ‘real films’ (i.e. Miramax product). Pick a side. It seems like nothing changes, other than the titles of films and the ‘critics’ talking about them (remember the ‘Film Socialisme’ flap?). Ultimately, I’m not entirely sure how far an ‘us vs them’ attitude is going to get anyone, although I increasingly fear that mainstream studio product won’t rest until it has steam rolled everything in its path. It’s not enough to be the biggest kid on the block, they want to be the only kid on the block.
So here we are on the quickly approaching eve of another TIFF, where ‘Boonmee’ will be screening (and a couple of friends will be viewing), as well as another upcoming edition of CIFF, also where ‘Boonmee will screen (and I’ll be viewing). I’m not sure how ‘cool’ or ‘cutting-edge’ I am, nor how tiny the audience will be when I finally get to see it. I am positive that the film will ultimately play to ‘minuscule box office receipts’, although it is questionable how quickly the film will vanish from the minds of those who see it. I for one can’t stop thinking about ‘Joe’.