2010 Certificate: tbc

Synopsis

In this surreal Thai drama, Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) - suffering acute kidney failure - chooses to spend his final days surrounded by his loved ones in a countryside retreat. Disturbingly, the ghost of his deceased wife appears to care for him, and his long lost son returns home in an ethereal form. Boonmee then sets off through the jungle with his family in search of a mysterious hilltop cave - the birthplace of his first life...

Director

  • Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Cast

  • Thanapat Siasaymar

  • Jenjira Pongpas

  • Sakda Kaewbuadee

  • Natthakarn Aphaiwonk

Review

There was much buzz at the Cannes Film Festival around Uncle Boonmee, which went on to controversially win the Palme d'Or before finding instant cult status.

It's a rare full-length feature from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (you can call him Joe), whose ethereal short films came to popular light after they caught the eye of such luminaries as Quentin Tarantino and Tim Burton.

It centres on the story of Boonmee, a Thai farmer dying of kidney failure, and the how his sister-in-law and nephew tend to him in his final days.

But it's not quite that simple. When having dinner with his family one night, his late wife appears, despite being dead for 19 years.

And the oddness doesn't stop at human apparitions; soon after, a creature of the night - a sort-of darker Chewbacca - walks in and claims to be Boonmee's long-lost son, having turned into a 'monkey ghost' after having sex with one. Naturally. None the less, dinner continues as if it was all oh so normal.

This fearless experimentalism is what makes Uncle Boonmee so special. It dares to be slow, to keep things simple, to go further - and to be fantastic.

Thai traditions are presented with an innocent humour. There are plenty of passages that, at first, seem utterly unrelated to the plot, such as the beautiful twilight shot of the runaway buffalo, or the Scheherazade-like tale of the princess and the catfish.

But they are (obviously) hints of Boonmee's past lives, helping to add a subtle suspense of the unknown with folklore elements; forest, princess, monks, catfish, monkey ghosts, cow, spirits and bugs.

The apparent intention is for the gaps in the film to correlate to our own understanding of past lives. For western audiences, it's not common to have the strong beliefs of karma and reincarnation as they do in Buddhism. Rather, there's an urge to understand what is happening, and to disregard faith as being secondary.

Uncle Boonmee's characters understand the situation around them no more than the audience, but they play along with it. They believe, instead of railing against the slow panoramas and lack of explanations, and clearly, Weerasethakul wants the audience to do likewise.

Go with the flow and you'll enjoy one of the most bizarre and original films to come out this year.