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Mysterious Object at Noon

Plexifilm // Unrated // January 21, 2003
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted June 10, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul was walking through the Chicago Museum of Art and came across an "Exquisite Corpse" sketch. Basically the Exquisite Corpse surrealist concept is a sentence, collage or drawing that is done by many people, with only the previous word/line being known to the person contributing. SO, it is basically like a campfire tale, where you sit in a circle and each person contributes a sentence, only the method of corpse makes the mystery more elusive and abstract since you only know a scant section of what came before. Weerasethakul and a skeleton crew took a camera to off the path areas in Thailand and began documenting one such story and the often poor working class people who contributed to it.

What the film amounts to is three integrated parts- one the fictional Exquisite Corpse narrative that the various villagers come up with, second footage of the villagers telling their ideas or relating other stories, basically letting you see a bit of their personality, and eventually a third as we see the crew of the film themselves making the film. So, as it begins we meet a woman working out of a traveling food wagon who first relates how her father sold her to relatives for bus fare and then begins the "exquisite corpse" story of the film. The story begins with a crippled boy and her teacher, said teacher being his only connection to the outside world. As the story goes on the teacher passes out and a weird object rolls out onto the floor. So, the next storyteller, a scatterbrained jovial old woman, decides that the object is a starchild fallen to Earth that assumes the form of a boy. And so it goes on, the storytellers change and the story drastically changes. We observe them thinking of what will happen as well as the crew filming, like after they finish a scene, the starchild actor boy wanting his promised KFC chicken. The actual last shot of the film is the last shot of the camera they used, worn to the point of breaking during this three year experiment.

Experiment is really the key word here. Any one of the films three elements, at least as they are presented, are not exactly all that great or engaging and don't hold much weight if separated from one another. Combined into the concept though, they are interesting. So, you could say this is an "idea" film. It is more about the process, the idea behind making the narrative skewering story than the story itself. So, these scenes of rural Thai villagers pondering the idea and sometimes reluctant and shy in continuing the story is what the film is all about, getting a glimpse of a people and a culture. As the story, which was acted out by non-professional actors, veers drastically depending on the teller, it really only works because we see that teller is a precocious child who naturally wants to inject some action.

The DVD: Plexifilm

Picture: Widescreen. I'm not entirely sure what kind of film stock the film was shot in, 35, 16, or maybe even 8 mm? The reason I'm not sure is because of the rough nature of the footage. Maybe the only camera they could get was an ancient one, or maybe if it was just a stylistic choice, but the black and white footage looks like it could have come from the silent era of film. Its rough, worn, dirty, there are moments when the exposure wavers quite badly.

Since the film is so recent (2000), logically, one assumes it is supposed to look this way. And why does it have to look so rough? Well, if its anything other than budget restraints, I think it is a shame. I'm a champion of grainy photography and don't mind a little dirt or lines on an image. But, if it was a conscious decision in Mysterious Objects case, the choice is a too aware art film school dabblers stylish excess. It doesn't seem to me to help the film in any way. It just makes it look cheaper and technically drab. So, just be forewarned that this is a rough, rough, rough looking film. The only thing that turns me off about its roughness is not seeing the reason why.

Sound: Dolby Stereo 2.0. Thai language with default English subtitles. There really is no difference between the documentary and the narrative parts of the films audio, both have the rough doc production, loose ,cheap, and sometimes noisy. This certainly lends itself to the documentary parts of the film, capturing real life as it happens, background noise and all.

Extras: Chapter Selections--- Liner Notes--- Interview with director (8:18). Very informative.

Conclusion: Those looking for a different sort of film and who, like me, always want to support non-traditional cinema will want to pick it up. Considering the nature of Thai film distribution, everything Thai is fringe, and I'm sure that adds to any pumped up praise the film has probably received from critics. If it came from a French or US filmmaker it would probably be seen as artistically indulgent and technically inept. While is a very interesting film, it is a bit overwhelmed by its poor execution and the fact that its novel concept wears off after awhile. The DVD is pleasant and although the extras are in short supply, for this kind of marginally distributed film we are lucky to have any extras at all.

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