Uncle Boonmee is as unencumbered by the trappings of narrative as anything I’ve ever seen, which admittedly isn’t much compared to others. Still, I doubt there are many movies that have done so little with a 100-minute runtime. Uncle Boonmee won the Palm d’Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival (the festival’s highest honor), and on one level it deserves it--it is gorgeously photographed and evokes a half-remembered-dream feeling--while on another it’s almost unforgivably glacial. I’m thinking in particular of how slowly the actors deliver their lines, as if they were all half-asleep themselves.
The story, such as it is, concerns a man named Boonmee, who has recently had a kidney operation but will be dead by the movie’s end. On his way to the grave he encounters the ghost of his dead wife and his long-absent son, who looks a bit like a black-haired Chewbacca (mating with a monkey lady will do that I suppose). Together with Boonmee’s sister-in-law and nephew, they’ll reminisce about, well, whatever comes to them.
The movie has a sizable following but to me it all seems rather aimless. What, for instance, does the opening prologue involving an escaped water buffalo have to do with a later tangent in which a catfish seduces a princess (you read that right)? On their own they’re interesting, but what is writer-director Apichatpong Weerasethakul going for? As far as I can tell, he’s talking about the relationship between humans and nature, and the ways they can become messily, sometimes supernaturally, intertwined. That's is all well and good, but what about that connection? What about that messy, supernatural relationship? Beats me.
I’m not the kind to dismiss slow, artsy, foreign films--if anything they’re my favorite kind--but Uncle Boonmee was simply not for me.