Published Sep 23, 2010If I were to describe the plot of acclaimed filmmaker Apichatpong Weerashethakul's new Palmes D'Or-winning examination of spirituality, karma, reincarnation and tradition versus modernity, it would likely sound like an acid-induced SNL sketch written by Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone. Standard conversations are interrupted by ghosts and Sasquatches, while the narrative occasionally derails to contextualize with additional mythology, such as a unique take on Narcissus that involves an elderly woman vividly fornicating with a catfish.
Of course, anyone familiar with the Thai auteur's previous provocative works, such as the play on repetition, perspective and time (Syndromes of a Century), shouldn't necessarily be surprised by this, noting the subdued comedy infused with long, thoughtful takes and complex imagery. The actual plot is secondary to how the story is told, deliberately avoiding convention to comment on man's relationship with nature while acknowledging changed times and even war.
As the title suggests, Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) recalls his past lives from his deathbed, in part by examining the one just led, when his long-dead wife shows up at the dinner table, along with his son, now transformed into a ghost monkey with glowing red eyes. Sister-in-law Jen (Jenjira Pongpas) comments on her nephew's hair growth, dryly acknowledging the absurdity of the scenario, later stepping on and electrocuting multiple bugs, which is juxtaposed with Boonmee's karmic anxiety about killing so many communists.
Each shot remains stationary either long before or after the dialogue and human element play out, allowing the audience to examine each environment and its relationship to nature. These moments of beauty often cut to flat shots of people blankly watching television, an image given additional meaning by a thought-provoking finale involving a monk.
While indeed slow and wilfully opaque, an almost eerie, lulling pace and the constant soundtrack of a living environment give us a sense of the otherworldly, exaggerating the possibilities of thematic interpretation. Once again, Weerasethakul has delivered a uniquely compelling film to mull over and re-examine. (Films We Like)