Who really understands Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films? I mean fully. I’ve seen his other ones and, for very specific reasons, really liked Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century. Then Tim Burton has to go and give Uncle Boonmee the Golden Palm at Cannes, sending it into the stratosphere in terms of expectations.
UB, as I’ll be calling it here, displays all of Joe’s (as Weerasethakul often prefers to be called for brevity and pronunciation’s sake) usual stylistics: a return to nature theme, low-key long takes, sound design that makes the jungle seem like both habitat for animals and bass-heavy machines, strange reaction shots, and an obsession with storytelling.
Wherein the more successful Tropical Malady the narrative is split into two parts, basically retelling the same story but using different devices, UB takes a somewhat more linear approach, as we follow the title character nearing death and then continue in the strange world created by the filmmaker post-mortem.
A perplexing still sequence aside, the narrative is follow-able and commentaries are made on the transience of life, the relationship of Thais to Laos and the boredom of a life unfulfilled and (the key point, I think) lived away from nature.
UB ultimately succeeded in leaving me with a feeling of inexplicable dread in some places, explicable wonder in others, and finally, with a cut to black that I did not expect. It’s failure lies in it’s unreachability and absolute refusal to divulge information.
Is this a narrative film? It feels more like an art installation to me. I can imagine wandering away from it mid-film and returning 30 minutes later to watch another sequence. I think I’d be as involved with its story. And also as confused.