Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

It’s not easy to prepare someone for the experience of watching his or her first Apichatpong Weerasethakul film.  I’ve only seen two of the Thai filmmaker’s movies myself—2004’s’s Tropical Malady and his latest effort, the Cannes-awards winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Control His Past Lives—and both times I’ve found the viewing experience to be both enthralling and baffling.  Enthralling because his movies are unlike anything else out there right now in the way they mix mysticism and realism and completely depart from a typical narrative structure.  Baffling because they are so removed from current American conventions—both in Hollywood and the independent world—that one spends a lot of the movie (perhaps too much) trying to make logical sense of something that isn’t necessarily supposed to be logical at all.  Personally, my big stumbling block with Weerasethakul has always been the way he directs his performers, most of whom are non-actors.  He doesn’t seem all that interested in tasking them to deliver performances that create fully-rounded characters; in individual scenes, their delivery and facial expressions almost run counter to the material they’ve been given to play.  For example, the title character in Uncle Boonmee is a dying man who is visited by various spirits—including his dead wife and their lost son, who wandered into the jungle and re-emerged as a monkey—as the end approaches and also revisits some of his past lives.  But Boonmee doesn’t express much in the way of surprise or emotion as these mystical events occur; he merely goes on with what little he has left of his life.  At the same time though, the movie’s casual approach to blending fantasy and reality is one of its chief selling points.  This isn’t the aggressive, in-your-face fantasy offered by 3D spectacles like Alice in Wonderland and Avatar—it’s relaxed and almost comically strange.  (The film’s odd comic streak is best exemplified by a did-that-just-happen? sequence where a horny catfish seduces a human princess.)  Perhaps the best way to experience Uncle Boonmee or really any Weerasethakul film is to let his odd vision of the world sweep over your and not sweat the details too much.