I am going to be honest. I didn't really get Uncle Boonmee Who can recall His Past Lives and if it didn't won the Palme d'Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, I would probably be less incline to try and understand what the movie about.
For me, a movie shouldn't be too overly abstract nor should it be filled with long takes of mundane stuff. Uncle Boonmee was one such movie that is pretty much opened to interpretation. There are also certain parts that would probably required some sort of knowledge of Thai movies or their history to appreciate what's going on. While some events are explicitly explained, there are many others that were left for you to figure out. Then there are still shot of an empty room for no apparent reason before the film cuts to Uncle Boonmee getting his kidney treatment in his room. These are some moments that frustrated me and made me wonder what did Tim Burton see in this movie that I am not getting.
While there are moments that are totally lost on me, there are actually some moments that were really stood out. The strange visitation of Uncle Boonmee's dead wife and his long lost son had a strong spooky atmospheric about it. Just imagine that you are in a remote area and a deceased relative suddenly appeared right beside you. Freaking out and running away probably won't do much good here. Beside that, the long lost son suddenly reappeared as a gorilla with very eery red eyes to inform Uncle Boonmee that there are creatures in the dark that are draw to him due to his kidney illness. It felt so ominous and yet strangely heartwarming that Uncle Boonmee could reunite with his love ones for one last time.
Then the movie shifted to one ugly princess who is having a secret affair with one of her servant. Just before I could even try to figure out what the linkage between the princess and Uncle Boonmee, the low self esteem princess proceed to have sex with a talking catfish! The most unnatural sex scene that's strangely erotic with a tinge of comedic elements that needed to be seen to believe. Till now, I couldn't figure out what does that scene got anything to do with Uncle Boonmee or his past lives. Was he the talking catfish, the ugly princess or the servant that got rejected.
Talking about past lives, there wasn't really an explicit moments that the viewers are told that what we are seeing now would be the past life of Uncle Boonmee. Such as the opening scene with a buffalo escaping from his owner. It was only at the Q&A session with the director that I realized that buffalo was one of Uncle Boonmee's past lives. He went on to explained that in the book, the buffalo had died and the spirit was hanging around a tree branch, watching his owner giving him a funeral.
The Q&A session and the various online interviews / reviews helped me to better understand what had transpired in the movie. Such as Uncle Boonmee's son who was fascinated about the monkey ghost and during his pursuit, he had became one of them. This was done to cite parallelism with the director's personal experience with transformation. But then again, I wonder without these assistance, would a movie goer still be able to understand and appreciate this movie?
Let me put it this way. Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives was just too abstract for me to fully understand and appreciate. I wonder how will the causal movie goers handle this movie. But after listening to the director and his fans passionately filling the blanks for me after the show, I wonder if there something that I had missed during my first viewing.
Uncle Boonmee definitely stayed on my mind for a while and it didn't really felt like a movie experience. It felt like a laborious journey that I had taken and be it good or bad, it's not something that could be forgotten easily.