"What should be mentioned first is the quiet," advises Michael Koresky in Reverse Shot. "But when discussing Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives many will undoubtedly initially gravitate towards the monkey ghosts, the talking catfish, the materializing spirits. Yet it's the hushed beauty of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's films that perhaps most unites them, and which helps make his latest — the surprise Palme d'or winner at this year's Cannes Film Festival — what it is, atmospherically, temperamentally, spiritually. The natural wonder of Apichatpong's Northern Thailand, the swaying branches and grasses of its restive jungles and fields, its crickets and birds, breezes and hums, are all-encompassing on screen, thanks to the filmmaker's immersive, simple yet forceful sound design, itself a gentle Buddhist gesture. Watching and listening, we are united with every living thing on screen, and we become aware of our place in the cosmos."
"Throughout Uncle Boonmee, a film cooly transfixed by the open-door relationship between the living and the dead, Apichatpong sees weirdness and wonder in the mundane, from the taste of tea to a daylight stroll across a field alive with the buzz of honeybees." Ed Gonzalez in Slant: "By night, spirits gather around Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) like moths to a flame — first his wife, Huay (Natthakarn Aphaiwonk), then his son, Boonsong (Geerasak Kulhong), who has taken the shape of an ape-like creature with neon-red eyes. Their appearance is shocking, to Boonmee's friends and family, but also to the audience, though their presence is quickly accepted and understood as a communion — preparations for Boonmee, who suffers from some unspecified kidney disorder, as he tiptoes toward the afterlife."
"From human to beast, old to young, and living to dead, Weerasethakul's characters are in constant evolution," writes Nick Schager, "with ideas about reincarnation and safe-passage (across the Laos-Thai border, or the earthly and ethereal realm) captured through a variety of different modes that pay homage to — and thus resuscitate — disappearing Thai cinematic genres. To be sure, this is familiar terrain for the auteur, and there's an occasional sense that the story is working out issues that were already thoroughly considered by the filmmaker's last two masterworks. Nonetheless, his relaxed yet imposing directorial style remain breathtaking, his long, languorous, searching cinematography and enveloping sound design... create an entrancing fairy-tale mood that suggests fundamental links between — and the concurrent presence of — various states of mind and being."
"The director's previous features have asked us to reconsider the way we usually watch movies," writes Henry Stewart in the L Magazine. "So does this one, but Uncle Boonmee also challenges us to rethink the way we see the whole world. It's life-changing cinema."
Uncle Boonmee "startles you with effects that go back to cinema's origins, a technique that paradoxically feels more revolutionary than regressive," writes Aaron Cutler at the House Next Door. "When Apichatpong shows bright purple and blue light shining into a dark room in individual particles, he's giving particular shades and textures that only film stock can achieve. There have been many gorgeous videos (Zodiac is one), so film isn't better or worse than other material, just different, in the same way that Boonmee's catfish form is as valid as his human one — and no matter Boonmee's form, a loving essence remains. It's rare for a movie to simultaneously evoke nostalgia and anticipation."
From Glenn Kenny's "brief notes toward constructing a user's manual for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives": "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."
Simon Abrams for the New York Press: "Granted, it's the end of a trilogy that he started with Tropical Malady and continued with Syndromes and a Century but I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Uncle Boonmee Who Recalls His Past Lives feels like a turning point in Weerasethakul's filmography. What comes next is anyone's guess."
For now, at Hammer to Nail, Nelson Kim notes that Uncle Boonmee is "probably his most accessible film yet, and thus nicely placed to benefit from the higher visibility and larger audiences the Palme is likely to attract."
Earlier: Daniel Kasman's interview with Apichatpong ("I think it's the most explicit movie about 'movies' that I've made") and the Cannes roundup.
Updates, 9/26: "While he doesn't blatantly suck up to Western critics in the way that [Wisit] Sasanatieng did in giving Chuck Stephens a cameo role in Citizen Dog, Mr Weerasethakul is no less pandering to the demands of festival-programming Marco Polos for ethnographic art films that have little resemblance to modern life in Asia," argues Martin Tsai in the Critic's Notebook. "Uncle Boonmee makes you feel worldly for fully immersing yourself in a culture so far removed from your own, and then feel better about yourself for living in a developed and civilized world unlike Mr. Weerasethakul's backward Thailand."
"The ambition of this film is enormous, and that Weerasethakul pulls it off with grace, humor, and beauty shows his is a talent that has finally matured," writes Marilyn Ferdinand. "I sincerely hope audiences will dig deep and allow his connection with our symbolic and mythic dimensions to reach them."
Update, 9/27: Michael J Anderson: "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives's fluid fabulist registration suggests an exceedingly appropriate return to the director's 'exquisite corpse' first feature, Mysterious Object at Noon (2000) — 'appropriate' given the more recent film's governing interest in origins, be it those of the forms and places of the eponymous uncle's past lives, the director's prior cinematic efforts and influences (including those of the Thai soap opera) and even of the cinema itself."
Update, 9/28: R Emmet Sweeney, blogging for TCM: "By the time it descends into Plato’s cave and encompasses the whole history of moving images, I knew I had seen a masterpiece. And I want to watch it again right now."
Update, 9/29: "It must be said that 'Joe' Weerasethakul's last feature, the metaphysical stunner Syndromes and a Century (2006), makes this one seem slightly less than astounding," writes Time Out New York's Joshua Rothkopf. "But there's no better intro to the man's work."