Mysterious Object at Noon, the debut feature from Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is without a doubt one of the most exciting pieces of film I’ve encountered in a long while. Purists may hesitate to label it a documentary as the film melds documentary footage and interviews with fictional footage interspersed throughout. The documentary participants, however, solely supply the fiction with each interviewee contributing to the ongoing story, thereby dictating the content and direction of the film. What emerges is a snapshot not only of life in urban and rural Thailand but also a fascinating view into the collective unconscious of its culture – and, ultimately, by ceding complete control of the film to its subjects, the resulting work stands among the purest of documentaries while simultaneously birthing a marvelous new breed of cinema.

The Thai origins of the film may further endear this gem to Western audiences as its unfamiliar setting, language and embedded mythology quietly bombard the viewer with new worlds; be they physical, ethereal or interwoven strata. One is concurrently fascinated with the fresh discovery of an alien culture and the shared folklore and passions which defy ethnic and geographical boundaries. Mysterious Object at Noon opens as a woman discloses her own fascinating biography, imparting a tale of being sold as a child to an uncle. A Western viewer (or any viewer, for that matter) may recoil immediately, fearing a child’s descent into sexual slavery or, in the least, a loveless life of manual labor. Before this account can progress, however, an off-camera voice requests a different story. “It can be real or fiction.” The woman launches into a simple chronicle of a wheelchair-bound boy and his teacher, Dogfahr, who visits him with photographs of the outside world. The remainder of the film unfurls through this story; supplied piece-by-piece by a succession of otherwise unrelated narrators.

As the fictional story develops, filmed in the same grainy 16-millimeter black and white as the documentary and interview footage, it melds seamlessly with the storytelling and the viewer is treated to a sublime, surreal work of cinema, the likes of which are commonly associated with Luis Bu˝uel or David Lynch. It is easy to forget the story of Dogfahr is fictional as she takes her ailing father to the doctor for a hearing test until, suddenly, the storyteller changes and Dogfahr falls unconscious and births a “star-child” who eventually assumes her shape, and, in due course, defends his adopted family against a supernatural “witch-tiger.”  Elements of the story are undoubtedly reflections of its tellers, who run the gamut from deaf schoolchildren signing the unfolding saga to the elderly (who provide the fascinating “star-child” turn) to a theatrical troupe who provides a chapter in song. And while watching the film’s participants reveal themselves through the shared epic, the viewer begins to identify with familiar elements emerging from halfway across the globe in a country, a culture, a tongue most of us may never fully comprehend.

Mysterious Object at Noon is an unashamedly relaxed film. Its 85 minutes amble along and, to be honest, it may begin to feel overlong at points, though it could easily stretch for hours, for years even, and still remain fresh. Weerasethakul’s presentation is simple and straightforward, yet poignantly so. No imaginable style could top this substance and Weerasethakul wisely lets the film and its subjects speak for themselves - and in doing so, Mysterious Object at Noon speaks for all humanity. I cannot think of another documentary that has achieved such greatness in such an unassuming, humble manner.

The DVD, from Plexifilm, is sharp in its presentation, from the image onscreen to the attractive packaging. The sole extra included is an interview with director Weerasethakul, but a film like Mysterious Object at Noon needs no window dressing. Film-lovers should take a moment to thank their lucky stars material like this is available readily and affordably. This is one to share with your friends. Pass it on.

Mark A. Nichols
williejoeshaver@yahoo.com

 


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