Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul | 113 minutes | drama, comedy, fantasy | Actors: Thanapat Saisaymar, Jenjira Pongpas, Sakda Kaewbuadee, Natthakarn Aphaiwonk, Geerasak Kulhong, Kanokporn Thongaram, Samud Kugasang, Wallapa Mongkolprasert, Sumit Suebsee, Vien Pimdee
Films by the Thai director Apichatpong Weerasetkhatul are known for their spiritual perspective. In his films visual language dominates in relation to the storyline. His films are often a mixture of past and present, in which reality and dream world intertwine with a mild form of ‘absurdism’. This does not make his films easily accessible, but for the connoisseur the special effect is that you can always expect something unique and surprising. ‘Uncle Boonmee’ is no exception, although the film itself is more accessible than, for example, an earlier film like ‘Tropical Malady’.
‘Uncle Boonmee’ is a film like a painting, with influences in the style of the medieval and hallucinatory painter Hieronymus Bosch, nothing is inconceivable with Weerasetkhatul. The film was the (surprisingly) winner of the Golden Palm (Cannes Film Festival 2010). Does this introduction sound very mysterious? In addition to the good dose of mysticism in the film – which may be too predominant for a viewer not trained in this film genre – a portion of specific and subtle humor has also been incorporated.
The story is as simple as it is mysterious. Boonmee’s (Thanapat Saisaymar) kidneys are very bad and he has retired to a remote house in the jungles of Northeast Thailand to die there. Boonmee is cared for by the illegal Laotian Jaai (Samud Kugasang). He is visited by his sister-in-law Jen (Jenjira Pongpas) and his cousin Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee). They both come from the metropolis of Bangkok and their lifestyle and emotional world are miles away from Boonmee, whose ideas are intertwined with spirituality and reincarnation. As a Buddhist, Boonmee believes in reincarnation and in his remote abode he relives his past lives in his previous existence.
Entirely in the spirit of the spirituality in the film, Boonsong appears as a monkey spirit. If this sounds unlikely to our Western ears, we must of course remember that we live this in the spirit of a Buddhist philosophy in which reincarnation is an ordinary matter of life and death. The company looks back on Boonmee’s life and its own. Boonmee decides to take his family on a journey through the jungle to a magical cave: a surreal experience and a magical journey begins to the place where his first life began….
The film story unfolds slowly and in a largely mysterious way to Western eyes. The ever-penetrating sounds of insects and beasts from the jungle have a fascinating impact and greatly enhance the film’s intriguing atmosphere. The film is shot in beautifully filtered light and tells in a highly poetic format, in a restrained manner and especially strong visual language, the story of life, death and the restart of life in a tempo and an atmosphere that seamlessly match the contemplative intention of the film. . The play of light and shadow with a strong emphasis on symbolism and magic is told by the slow but at the same time magnificent camera work, without appearing artificial.
‘Uncle Boonmee’ is not a film for the viewer who wants to sit back and relax and experience some action. Director Weerasetkhatul confirms his reputation as an idiosyncratic filmmaker and the film is not a ‘bite-sized piece’. If you, as a cinephile, are open to immersion in the Thai world of thought and are you willing to experience the film, then you can let this winner of the Golden Palm 2010 surprise and cinematograph you.