Part of Fall 2002
A co-presentation with the Reel Asian International Film Festival (Nov. 27 – Dec. 1 www.reelasian.com)
The most fascinating thing about the Surrealist exquisite corpse exercise is not the resulting creature, with its Frankensteinian hodge-podge of mismatched body parts. Rather, it is the folds in the paper, where one artist’s designs meet up with and diverge from the brush strokes of another. While the entire creature is a sight to behold, those folds serve as the stitching that truly brings the animal to life. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Mysterious Object at Noon brings those folds to the fore. Reminiscent of an exquisite corpse, the film follows the director as he travels from village to village in Thailand, asking the people he meets to build upon a story initiated in a previous village. He then films the completed story and intercuts the fiction with the documentation of the original storytellers. The collision between documentary and fiction, setup and improvisation, resonates with a spontaneous magic.
Incredibly complex, yet almost effortless to watch, the hybrid creature Weerasethakul presents to us is one of the most unique storytelling experiments of recent years. The friction between the styles and stories reveals the very act of creation, drawing the audience into the process as the filmmaker weaves the stories into a dense web.
An accomplished maker of short film and video, Weerasethakul’s is already amassing acclaim for his second feature, Blissfully Yours, which played at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Pleasure Dome and the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival are honoured to bring his incredible debut feature, Mysterious Object at Noon, to town for its long-overdue Toronto premiere.
“The first shot of Mysterious Object at Noon frames the windshield of a car that is driving out of the city of Bangkok. Immediately, we are driven out of the urban, out of the familiar and into a world of constant surprises. What is astonishing about the film, as the familiar tropes of documentary rapidly disappear, is how the director courts surprise rather than administering control. The director, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and his crew easily follow every twist and turn that is presented to them, happily mixing genres when the moment suits them. The friction between the styles and stories reveal the very act of creation, drawing the audience into the process as the director weaves the stories into a dense web.
Weerasethakul thrives on the collaborative process. At the Toronto premiere of his new film, Blissfully Yours, he explained that he tells his non-professional actors that he is a non-professional director and that they are to build the film together. Mysterious Object at Noon highlights his concern for exchange even more strongly. In it, Weerasethakul builds a story through interviews with the villagers he encounters, who are asked to continue to expand the story initiated by the first interviewee. The development of the film relies primarily on each villager’s imagination and the style of the film follows suite. This spontaneity spills out of his film to the audience, who are encouraged to make imaginative leaps of their own to piece together the story. This collaboration continues beyond the running time of the film, as Weerasethakul and his colleagues tirelessly attempt to build an audience for experimental and independent film in Thailand, through constant production and the biannual Bangkok Experimental Film Festival.
This spirit of collaboration hides a subtle political edge. Thailand, like many of the other countries identified as burgeoning economic markets, is rapidly urbanizing. These emerging market forces also contribute to a rather staid and limited media landscape (the protagonist of Blissfully Yours works in a factory that manufactures Bugs Bunny and Tweety ceramic figurines). Weerasethakul’s decision to take the camera out into the surrounding villages is a direct challenge to the simplification of culture that urbanization tends to bring. By locating his film in the traditions of oral storytelling, he not only gives a certain agency to the storytellers portrayed, he directly challenges the formulaic concerns of a consumer-oriented media. Like oral storytelling, his film is open-ended and adventurous and the trajectory of the film relies on the particular concerns of the selected storyteller. That this localization reveals an incredibly wide imaginative realm is a tribute to the open potential when media is made collaboratively rather than just delivered to an audience.
It is ironic that one of the best examples of non-linear storytelling is a black and white super 16mm experimental documentary located in rural Thailand. With globalization, the new is supposed to work from a top down framework, with the new in art coming from Europe or North America. Somehow, Weerasethakul sidesteps this, working in the global film system (his film was funded by Dutch and French funding bodies only after he had shot most of the rushes) in order to reach a localized audience. Nevertheless, the strength of this film is that any audience is welcome. Perhaps we are seeing the collision of globalization and localized cultures; perhaps we are seeing rural Thailand imagined as a Surrealist exquisite corpse. Primarily, however, we are watching the creative act of constructing a story in which we are participants. The film dispenses with hierarchy, as viewer, storyteller and even director are swept up in the telling of the mysterious object at noon.” (Chris Kennedy)