Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. 2000.

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A camera attached to a moving car takes us down a busy city street in Thailand. Abruptly, the car turns into a narrow alley where we see brush grass and run down shacks. As the camera enters one of the houses, a heavy-set woman speaks of the trauma involved in her being sold into prostitution by her father. When she is finished, an off-camera voice asks her to tell another story, real or fiction. It is then that we begin to sense that cinematically we are in unchartered territory. Internationally acclaimed Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s first feature Mysterious Object at Noon is an offbeat mixture of reality and fiction in which there is no screenplay or linear narrative, only a story created and added to by each participant in the mode of the French game “exquisite corpse”. 

The story the woman first tells is that of a teacher named Dogfahr whose young pupil is a cripple confined to a wheelchair. The tale is then dramatized on screen by non actors alternating with the talking storyteller. As the camera moves north and south of Bangkok into the Thai countryside, a cross section of Thai’s continue the story by adding a few lines. These include two deaf girls using sign language, a song and dance troupe, and children in a rural Thai school. With each addition, the tale becomes vastly different and increasingly fantastic. The mysterious object in the title falls from the teacher who has collapsed and turns into an extraterrestrial boy with strange powers, a duplicate teacher, and finally a “witch tiger” and a magic sword.  

Some sequences stand by themselves and are without any relation to the continuing storyline. The teacher brings her father to the doctor for a hearing test and complains of a strange line around her neck which the doctor dismisses as an allergy or the effect of wearing her necklace. Parents talk of a boy who escaped death in a plane crash because he was protected by amulets, and a scene shows women bargaining at a fish market. An experimental film with a small budget shot in 16-millimeter black and white, Mysterious Object at Noon glows with warmth and playfulness. As it progresses, it also slows down and becomes more of a meditation on Thai culture, creating a mood of tranquility and peace. Like Seinfeld, it is ostensibly “about nothing”, but turns out to be about everything. 


Howard Schumann
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