Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives: The Latest Strangeness From Apichatpong Weerasethakul

The acme of no-budget, Buddhist-animist, faux-naive, avant-pop magic neorealism, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee is a movie in which conversing with the materialized spirits of the dead and watching the so-called living on TV exist on the same astral plane. Weerasethakul's sixth feature is, like many of his previous movies, set mainly in the forests of remote, poor northeast Thailand, a place where multiple times co-exist and parallel lives converge. The pre-credits sequence of humans and water buffaloes hunkered down by a smoky fire in the woodsy dawn could be a scene out of Pather Panchali, until a glimpse of a humanoid "monkey ghost" signals that we have entered the filmmaker's primeval realm. Elderly Aunt Jen and her young nephew, Tong, enter this enchanted forest to visit Boonmee, Jen's brother-in-law, who's dying of kidney failure. Boonmee explains that "spirits and hungry animals" can sense his sickness, and, sure enough, mid–evening meal, the ghost of Boonmee's long-dead wife, Huay, materializes at the table. Shortly after, another red-eyed monkey ghost, the manifestation of their long-lost son, Boonsang, appears. No one is particularly surprised by the apparitions, least of all Boonmee. Similarly relaxed and tolerant of ambiguity, Weerasethakul has a taste for distanced camera positions, real-time expositions, deadpan humor, and blatant non sequiturs. Ending with one last, playful paradox, Uncle Boonmee seems the fullest expression yet of Weerasethakul's singular sensibility.

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