[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B004GP0O42][/pullquote] Uncle Boonmee is the latest movie from Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Shortlisted for last year’s Academy Awards, it’s a slow-paced meditation on life (or multiple lives) and death. Boonmee is an ageing farmer in rural Thailand. He is suffering from acute kidney disease and is preparing calmly for his own death. His sister in law, Jen, comes to visit him for a final time and the film opens with her journey from the city.
It’s a languid journey that sets up how the rest of the scenes in the film will play out – unhurried and occasionally focussing on incidentals that have no obvious bearing on the central plot (what little there is of it).
Following this journey is a long scene in which Boonmee, Jen and her son share dinner. As they are finishing, the ghost of Boonmee’s wife joins them at the table, as does their son, who disappeared many years ago and who is now covered in thick black hair and has piercing red eyes, because, he explains, he has been living for years with the monkey ghosts and has forgotten his former life. While the central characters are, not unreasonably, surprised by these events, they take them in their stride remarkably quickly and the strange visitors take places at the table.
Boonmee’s son Boomsong explains that, as Boonmee’s death is approaching, the spirits are gathering around the farm, meaning he and his mother are able to visit. The characters’ acceptance of these curious apparitions flitting in and out is a noticeable feature of the movie. Extraordinary things happen in a low key, ordinary sort of way and everyone adapts easily.
The film continues in the same vein, drifting through Boonmee’s last days in a series of lengthy scenes that are baffling in the extreme, though none of the characters seem to notice. In addition to this sequence of family reunion, there’s an interlude about an ageing princess who wants to recapture her lost beauty. She goes about this in a way you couldn’t possibly expect and it is never explained how this connects with the other events.
As you’ve probably gathered, this is not a run-of-the-mill movie. But its strangeness and unique rhythm make it quietly enthralling. It’s gentle, with no musical soundtrack and long segments where few, if any, words are spoken. I didn’t understand much of it “ apparently a good deal of it relates to animistic beliefs of certain types of Buddhism in rural Thailand, but as a Westener with little knowledge of this religion, most of this went over my head. If all cinema was like this, it would be a little frustrating, but as a one-off bundle of oddness, it’s certainly interesting.