The winner of the Palme d’Or (that’s cinephile talk for the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival) is definitely not a movie for action junkies. Uncle Boonmee, directed by the Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady, Syndromes and a Century), takes a sweet, long time to work its magic on you. That is if you’re not easily hooked by a talking catfish getting it on with a princess. Apichatpong, helpfully known as Joe, infuses his dreamlike films with references to nature, animals, memory, reincarnation, spiritualism and eroticism.
The plot, such as it is, involves Uncle Boonmee (former roofer Thanapat Saisaymar in his feature-film acting debut), near death from kidney failure, making contact with his past lives, notably as the ox we see roaming in the prologue and the above-mentioned lustful catfish. Cared for by a nurse (Samud Kugasang) on his remote farm in Thailand, Boonmee accepts visits from his sister-in-law (Jenjira Pongpas) and young nephew (Sakda Kaewbuadee). Most mesmerizing are the ghostly visits from his late wife, Huay (Natthakarn Aphaiwonk), and missing son, Boonsong, who takes the form of a red-eyed monkey. As Joe blurs the line between reality and the supernatural, his haunting and hypnotic film exerts a hold you don’t want to break. It’s a beauty.