out of Five
Running time: 114
Fascinating, hypnotic and deeply, deeply weird, Apichatpong's Palm d'Or winner is a beautifully shot Thai drama that will baffle and amaze in equal measure.
What's it all about?
Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (who, thankfully, also goes by ‘Joe’), Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives stars Thanapat Saisaymar as Uncle Boonmee, a farmer who is slowly dying of kidney failure. As his sister-in-law Jen (Jenjira Pongpas) and nephew Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee) gather to help him through his last days, they are suddenly joined by Boonmee's dead wife Huay (Natthakarn Aphaiwonk) and his long-lost son Boonsong (Geerasak Kulhong), who now looks like a monkey man after having sex with a monkey spirit.
Nobody present seems particularly fazed by the appearance of ghosts and monkey men, so they get on with the business of having dinner together while Uncle Boonmee recalls his past lives, including his time as a water buffalo and the time he was an unhappy princess who had sex with a talking catfish (or possibly the other way round – it's never exactly clear). Eventually, Boonmee decides he wants to go to the birthplace of his first life, so his family trek through the jungle to a mysterious hilltop cave, taking care to avoid the gathering monkey ghosts.
The first appearance of the monkey ghost is utterly terrifying – one minute you're watching a water buffalo (that may or may not have been Uncle Boonmee) go about its business, the next the camera pans past a disturbing patch of familiar-shaped darkness that you suddenly realise has two glowing red eyes. That moment alone is the creepiest thing you'll see at the cinema all year and that's only the opening scene.
The imagery and camerawork are extraordinary throughout, while the minimal dialogue and atmospheric soundtrack lend the film a hypnotic, contemplative feel. It's also surprisingly funny in places, particularly in everyone's reactions to the appearance of Boonsong.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a deeply weird, strangely beautiful film that needs to be seen to be believed. Recommended.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (PG)