Many people have been telling me that they would interact with this blog more often, but they have often not seen the films being reviewed, or find them too inaccessible. So, as an attempt to address these concerns, here is my review for Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s debut film, an obscure, black and white, semi-pseudo-documentary, experimental Thai film called ‘Mysterious Object At Noon’.
As a sign of quite how obscure Mysterious Object At Noon is, the film begins with a message crediting the restoration work that has been done on the film. It is the message that would not look out of place on a film from the 1920s, rather than one from the 2000s.
It is difficult even to describe the nature of the film itself. It would be wrong to describe it as either a documentary or a fiction. As a demonstration, there is a scene – which happens to be the most affecting in the entire film – where a woman tearfully recounts the tale of being sold by her parents. She doesn’t look like an actress. It certainly doesn’t feel like a performance. She is talking by herself, presumably just to camera. This feels like a documentary.
But if it is a documentary, then it is not about any particular subject. Many of the stories being told by the protagonists involve “the alien boy”. This is certainly not a typical topic for your run-of-the-mill documentary. What we are actually watching is some kind of distortion of the two.
Later, we see a group putting on a play. A play about some of the stories we have seen being told. This is key to understanding the film as a whole. On one level, it is a film about storytelling. Documentary and fiction, a play and its audience, reality and fantasy are all intertwining here. The audience is left confused and bewildered. But in a nice kind of way.
There is a second important aspect to understanding the film. Whilst it is a film about people telling stories, the film itself lacks a strong central narrative. Instead of telling stories, the film is more about ‘telling’ people. It is a study of the characters and the town in Thailand.
What becomes evident whilst watching Mysterious Object At Noon is that Weerasethakul is an individual who just wants to pick up a camera, and record what is going on around him. He wants to narrate the stories of the individuals around him, to capture their lives on camera. Whether he makes documentary or fiction, fantasy or reality, is secondary to the mere process of filmmaking itself. And as a result, in turn, those dichotomies lose any meaning, blurred into non-existence.
Following this unusual debut, Weerasethakul has since gone on to be garlanded internationally. With films such as ‘Tropical Malady’ (2004) and ‘Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives’ (2010) – the latter of which won the Cannes Palme D’Or – he has single-handedly placed Thai cinema on the world map through his surreal blending of different layers of ‘reality’. In Uncle Boonmee for instance, Weerasethakul combined the human world with nature, and the living with the dead. Notably, this emanated itself in scenes with a sinister, red-eyed, ape-like creature – somewhat resembling Rowan Atkinson’s Gerald the Gorilla – sat round the family dinner table, and a carp having oral sex with a woman.
In the end. Mysterious Object At Noon is a strange little oddball of film, a mysterious object in its own right, that intrigues more than it entertains. But at its heart, it makes clear that right from the beginning of his career Weerasethakul has been a director who wants to expose audiences to the individuals around him, and to blur different worlds and realities that are all too often kept distinct.