A slowly moving camera captures the interiors of various houses in a village. They are all deserted except one house with a group of young soldiers. They are digging the up the ground. It is unclear whether they are exhuming or burying something. The voices of three young men are heard. They repeat, rehearse, memorise a letter to a man named Boonmee. They tell him about a small community called Nabua where the inhabitants have abandoned their homes. The wind blows fiercely through the doors, and the windows, bringing with it a swarm of bugs. As evening approaches, the sky turns dark. The bugs scatter and the men are silent.
A Letter to Uncle Boonmee is part of the multi-platform Primitive project which focuses on a concept of remembrance and extinction set in the northeast of Thailand. Boonmee is the main character of the feature film of the project.
This short film is a personal letter describing my Nabua to Uncle Boonmee.
The film comprises of shots of house interiors in the evening. The houses are all deserted except for one, where there is a group of young soldiers, played by some teens of Nabua. Two of them impersonate me by narrating the film:
‘Uncle… I have been here for a while. I would like to see a movie about your life. So I proposed a project about reincarnation. In my script there is a longan (fruit tree) farm surrounded by mountains. But here there are endless plains and rice fields. Last week I met a man who I thought was your son. But perhaps he was your nephew because he said his father was a policeman who owned hundreds of cows. Judging from the book I have, I don’t think you owned a lot of cows, and you were a teacher, weren’t you? The man was old and couldn’t remember his father’s name very well. It might be Boonmee or Boonma. It was a long time ago, he said. Here in Nabua there are several houses that I think are suitable for this short film for which I got funding from England. I don’t know what your house looked like. I cannot use the one in my script because it is so different from the ones here. Maybe some parts of these houses resemble yours.
What was your view like? Was it like this?
Soldiers once occupied this place. They killed and tortured the villagers until everyone fled into the jungle.’
There is a soldier having dinner alone on the second floor. In a room nearby, there is a mysterious figure sleeping in a pink mosquito nest. The silence is interrupted by the sound of digging heard from the window. From one of the houses, there is a glimpse of a spaceship parked in the backyard. Something small is darting across the frame.
In an empty room, the soldier is lying on the floor looking out of the window, preoccupied by his thoughts. In a forest, there is a black, ape-like creature walking among the trees. In one corner of the forest we see a model of a shabby house, a spirit house that no one cares for any longer. In front of a tree a cow stands, doing nothing. After a while, it walks away. -Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Mosquitoes, flies and other insects are the enemy of the filmmaker. They ruin our work when they fly past the camera, creating a swift blurry object in the shot, making it ‘not clean’, when the audience are supposed to concentrate on the in-focus object in the frame. I found them in several shots of our Nabua footage, especially those that we shot in the morning and at dusk.
On the other hand, I think they are very beautiful, like ghosts darting across the frame. They create a moment of wonder that makes the audience become conscious of the filmic focal plane, and of filmmaking. I would like to invite them to be part of this short film. These bugs are free to invade some of our ‘clean’ frames. Perhaps these mysterious bugs are flying across most of the villages in Thailand and happen to stop by in this village. Or they simply emerge from the ground where the soldiers are digging.