Winner of the Palme d'or - 2010 Cannes Film Festival
In the past decade, Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul has risen to the top of the art-cinema world, principally through three feature films, Blissfully Yours, Tropical Malady and Syndromes And A Century, which are characterized by an utterly original handmade sensibility, full of surprises and disruptions and spiritual presences.
With its comparatively linear structure, Uncle Boonmee, which won the Palme d’or at the Cannes Film Festival 2010, may be Weerasethakul’s most accessible film to date and, despite having a man’s death as its central event, the one with the most fun.
He includes elements of an old-fashioned folk tale, a ghost story and a historical fantasy as an homage to Thai films he watched as a child.
“In this case, a synopsis of the apparently absurd plot does little to communicate the spell of the film, created through intricate soundscapes and stylistic shifts that make this very much a movie that has to be experienced.
Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) is a farmer who runs a tamarind orchard in northeastern Thailand. He is dying of kidney disease and his sister-in-law, Jen (Jenjira Pongpas), and a young cousin, Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee), have come to be with him.
They sit around and talk, and in the evening, over dinner, they have some unexpected guests: The ghost of Boonmee’s wife, Huay (Natthakarn Aphaiwonk), who died 14 years before, joins them at the table. Later, a brown, yeti-like creature with glowing red eyes arrives: He’s Boonmee and Huay’s son, Boonsong (Geerasak Kulhong), who disappeared years ago in the jungle. He explains that he was busy trying to photograph monkey ghosts, but, after mating with one of them, he was transformed into one.
‘Am I the only one who feels odd here?’ a bewildered Tong asks.
All this is a prologue to the film’s second day, which begins with Boonmee’s reverie, an old-fashioned costume drama about a princess travelling through the forest who has an erotic encounter with a talking catfish she meets in a pool. Eventually, Boonmee and his entourage end up in a cave where Boonmee believes he had his first of his several existences.
Politics is touched on; we see a series of still photos of Thai soldiers, which connects to Boonmee’s account of a dream of the future and his worries that his part in killing communists in the sixties has led to his bad karma.
Boonmee’s ‘past lives’ could include his literal memories, or previous incarnations as a fish, a princess or even a buffalo, which we see in an opening scene, pulling free from its tether and escaping into the woods. At the end of the film, with its coda in a bland motel room, we slip back into the normal world, but one that has been strangely transformed.
– Liam Lacey, The Globe And Mail