Mysterious Object At Noon (DVD)
Remember the name: Apichatpong Weerasethakul. As the nascent Thai cinema struggles to establish an identity on the world stage, Weerasethakul has emerged as its most promising young star, a playful and wildly idiosyncratic director who seems to be discovering his style as he goes. His two features, 2000's Mysterious Object At Noon and 2002's Blissfully Yours, take such a relaxed approach to formal experimentation that they feel like poetic reveries, inviting viewers to spend time in a world that isn't chiseled by narrative. Though Mysterious Object doesn't match the gorgeous and strangely erotic rhythms of the later film–which recently and deservedly topped the Village Voice poll for Best Undistributed Film–it's still exciting to see the embryonic traces of a potentially major artist. Only in his early 30s, Weerasethakul was educated at the School Of The Art Institute in Chicago, where he was inspired by the surrealist art and writing game "Exquisite Corpse," in which contributors take turns adding on to a piece with an awareness of only what's come immediately before their turn. Part fiction film, part documentary travelogue, Mysterious Object uses the concept as a jumping-off point to test the boundaries of storytelling and see how it mingles with Thai folkloric traditions, particularly the "mor lam" song-story troupes in remote rural areas. The basic premise, such as it goes, is built around the evolving relationship between a disabled boy and his young female teacher, with story elements that were dictated to Weerasethakul as he traveled the country, and later re-enacted by non-professional actors. The "object" of the title rolls out of the teacher's skirt after she loses consciousness; it turns into another boy who may or may not be an alien, which leads to the appearance of an identical teacher, who may or may not be the real thing. And so on, until the original thread of the story drifts off into ever more ridiculous non sequiturs, ending in a series of hilarious children's fantasies that introduce tigers, sword-fights, and other silly embellishments. In an eight-minute interview included on the DVD, Weerasethakul talks about the film as a three-year work-in-progress that often reflects the mood and interest of himself and the crew, regardless of their original intent. Sometimes, he confesses, he'd get bored with working on the story, so he occasionally digresses into more loosely impressionistic snapshots of provincial life. All of this free association falls under the wide umbrella of "experimental" cinema, meaning that the often flagging pace and incoherent stretches are balanced by sublime moments of inspiration. Closing on the last piece of footage before Weerasethakul's camera broke, Mysterious Object fiddles happily with the possibilities, showing the promise of a precocious talent that hasn't yet fully formed.