The best bit of the film
I went to see this Thai Palme D’Or winner yesterday, attempting to keep an open mind having read of its inscrutability.
It started with a beautiful sequence shot in dusky light: a big old buffalo tied to a tree, looking this way and that, before freeing itself and trundling across a field into the woods, where it is found by its owner and gently coaxed back into captivity.
The pace and sound design – birds, insects, a few moos – immediately reminded me of the ultra-tranquil opening to Stellet Licht, a film which eventually bored me silly. Then we cut briefly to the very cool shot you can see above. Someone’s watching.
Turns out the figure is a monkey spirit and/or the long-lost son of Uncle Boonmee, our hero. Uncle is dying from a kidney problem and, during a family dinner, is visited by both monkey man and the ghost of his late wife, who literally fades into the scene. They sit around and occasionally speak with utter lack of energy or emotion as only arthouse non-actors do.
Eventually I started to drift off to sleep so I suppose the poster quote describing it all as ‘hypnotic’ wasn’t far off. I was briefly roused by an apparently unironic sequence in which a princess get intimate with a catfish (possibly this was the same character as the dead wife) and there were some evocative still images of Thai soldiers, presumably adding some political context to the whole thing.
Mainly I was baffled, and not a little bored. Technically exquisite perhaps, but I can’t believe there wasn’t a more coherent and substantial candidate for Cannes’ top prize than this.