What does a water buffalo look like at night? It’s a shadowy presence on the screen, difficult to follow, but viewers do.
This opening scene of “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” is typical of much of the film’s complex, quirky story. At the same time, the tale is anchored in the very real Thai countryside.
Recipient of the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or, “Uncle Boonmee” is another iconoclastic, puzzling work from Thailand’s most famous director, Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
The title character is incurably ill, preparing for death. He is visited by his dead wife and, even stranger, by his monkey-ghost son —
“Why are you so hairy?” Boonmee demands of the son.
Boonmee is dying of kidney disease — which also caused the death of Apichatpong’s father — and domestic scenes are intertwined with supernatural. Six connected episodes include folk tales and fantasy in a fusion of real and imagined worlds.
In a simple, nondramatic way, spirits in human form and the living come and go, meet and depart, and discuss mundane subjects or important psychological or spiritual issues. In one moment, characters are having a pedestrian conversation at a meal, and the next, a fairytale princess and a catfish make love under a waterfall.
After a while, the disjointedness grows on the audience, and the action seems natural and believable.
“The function of film is to implant memories, and a sense of other lives, in our own,” the director has said of the film.
Starring Thanapat Saisaymar, Jenjira Pongpas, Sakda Kaewbuadee
Written and directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Running time 113 minutes
Note: Danny Glover will introduce the film at today’s 7:20 p.m. screening at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.