The film centers on the last days in the life of its title character; Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar). Together with his loved ones – including the spirit of his dead wife (Natthakarn Aphaiwong) and his lost son (Jeerasak Kulhong) who has returned in a non-human form – Boonmee explores his past lives as he contemplates the reasons for his illness.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, also known as Joe, is the Thai sensation of the 21st century. His previous films like Syndromes and a Century, Tropical Malady, and Blissfully Yours have been praised in many festivals around the world. With Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Apichatpong won the Cannes festival Palme d’Or. This is a much deserved recognition for this unique film that portrays a dying man that is revisited by his family and peers. Notably, his deceased wife and lost son. Boonmee is based on the novel of a man who claimed to be able to recall his past lives. It mixes Asian beliefs of reincarnation and karma.
Split in two different halves, Uncle Boonmee immerses its viewer in the life of simple people that are confronted with their spirituality but also to Thai pop culture. The mise en scène was a link to old Thai comics. Shot in 16 mm film for economical reasons but also because Thai television used to be shot in this format. Apichatpong also cites that this format was chosen because he feels sad that now everything is shot in numeric and nothing is analog. The red eyes of most of the posters of the film represents the old horror films of Thai studios that had monsters shot in the dark with red lighted eyes to be sure we know that the creature was there. With those explanations the film might be more understandable for a westerner or a non Thai person.
With the second half of Uncle Boonmee we are taken into the many lives of Boonmee and there’s a nice dream-like element of flowing through those existence in a state of symbolism to the Thai nation. It is quite interesting and mysterious at the same time.
Uncle Boonmee being the first film from director Apichatpong Weerasethakul I’ve ever watched, it opened another nice facet of the many cinemas the globalisation has brought to us. Now local filmmakers are more and more easily available to discover for us and it is a blessing for cinephiles who like to dig more than just the films nominated to the Academy Awards’ Best Foreign films. A great movie from a great director.