Another is cinema. Apichatpong has explained that he conceived of Uncle Boonmee's stylistic shifts as a panorama of film history. Distinct passages recoup Thai costume drama, idyllic French verité, TV family drama, and Apichatpong's own long take style. The transformations call attention to yet another medium, and work to crystallize two resonant aspects of cinema's temps perdus: its disembodied nature and vicarious consummation of the past. Film has itself entered a Boonmee-like twilight, so when Apichatpong refers to Uncle Boonmee's spirit of lamentation in interviews, he's talking as much about the vessel as the story.
But one need not decipher symbols to enjoy Apichatpong's films — it's a matter, rather, of sharing in his sensibility. Like all his work, Uncle Boonmee has a strong basis in Apichatpong's own idiosyncratic personal history. But the film has the same relationship to autobiography as Mysterious Object at Noon did to ethnography. That film used the surrealist game of exquisite corpse as a model to interact with documentary subjects. Apichatpong traveled from city to country on narrative threads invented, elaborated on, and acted out by those appearing on camera. The premise is that the kernels of individual experience and insight can be followed to something like collective knowledge — that we might locate the self, in other words, between selves. None of the secondary readings are remarkable in themselves; it's the connectedness that counts.
UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES opens Fri/4 at the Sundance Kabuki.