1) A couple of night before the New York Film Festival press screening of this picture, I was trying to prep a friend who would also be attending, and whose first Apichatong Weerasethakul this was to be. Bearing my impressions of Weerasethakul's great, but resistant-to-standard-film-critical-thought-and-vocabulary prior feature Syndromes and a Century in mind, I advised her: "Okay, so dip into a little early to middle-period John Ashbery. Then subtract the self-conscious intellectualism. Then add Thailand. Then drop the resting heart rate. Then, think film.Then subtract linearity, again." After the screening, my friend told me that, despite this picture being more linear than expected, my prep work had in fact been useful, and that the film was even greater than that!
2) Another useful antecedent to cite relative to what this picture's about is Tarkovsky's The Mirror. Only because this is Weerasethakul, the quietude of its forest scenes, which correspond in their poetry to the dacha scenes in Mirror, is more gentle and also eerie in a different way. The world-historical is broached in a more indirect way than in Tarkovsky's film; here the dying title character wonders aloud about his karma being affected by all the "Communists [he's] killed." But that weight does continue to bear, ever so subtly, on Uncle Boonmee's vision, coming to a peculiar fruition near the end.
3) The aforementioned gentleness, the matter-of-fact depiction of ghosts, the near-anesthetizing sound design of the first forty-five minutes or so, really do cast a spell that may zonk an unsuspecting viewer. This is a film about which it will likely be quite frequently said, "Things really perk up around the time the talking catfish shows." Which is true. But don't let that fool you: it's not really all about the talking catfish.
4) What's the point at which the you-know-what-word-that-starts-with-an-"m" started popping into my head? Possibly when the transition to clunky handheld camerawork went down, during the compelled-cave-exploration scene. The mixing of myth, mysticism, and a very direct confrontation of mortality came together in a visually breathtaking, intellectually provocative, altogether head-spinning sequence that hardly announced itself as such; indeed, the entirety of the genius of this film sort of sneaks up on you, which is, again, typical of Weerasthakul's modesty and gentleness.
5) Yes, the monkey-man suit is below 2001: A Space Odyssey par. I believe that's deliberate.
5) So, yes, I think this likely absolutely deserved to win the Palme d'or at Cannes, and much as I don't necessarily like to do this, I shall have to recall that this decision was pooh-poohed in the Toronto Star by Peter Howell, who said "as a cinema experience, Uncle Boonmee is about as gripping as watching a variety store security video." Howell is entitled to his opinion, except it's wrong, and the whole tenor of this piece is kind of, well, horrifying in its reactionary patronizing; it's saying, well, this "art cinema" thing is all well and good, but if you start giving awards to it you'll set a bad precedent, so you ought to get with the program and honor stuff that's normal. Howell's a nice guy, but there comes a point where being a nice guy doesn't do much to absolve your sins. Such anti-intellectual, anti-art bilge isn't covered under the "nice guy" provision, I'm afraid. (UPDATE: A commenter points out that Howell just this very moment, more or less, did an about-face on the picture, and the fact that it won the Palme d'or, without even mentioning his Cannes notice; see here.)
6) I hope it's not a spoiler to say this: How can you be in two places at once when you're not anywhere at all?