An excerpt from the booklet essay by Tony Rayns

The most remarkable thing about Mysterious Object at Noon is that you can ‘deconstruct’ it – pick it apart – without destroying its magic. Its opening caption is “Once upon a time” but the expectation of a fairy tale is immediately undercut with an extended take, shot from a moving vehicle, of modern Bangkok. As the shot takes us from multi-lane highways and high-rise shopping malls into a soi, a narrow, winding, residential alleyway from an earlier period in the city’s development, we hear two things on the soundtrack. First, from the radio, a trailer for a soap opera called Tomorrow I Will Love You, a torrid saga of a woman battling her unlucky fate to win back the man she loves, typical of the dozens such serials which clog up Thai radio and TV round the clock every day. Second, from a loudspeaker mounted on the roof of a van, a repetitive sales pitch offering both tuna chunks and a special deal on bottles of the pungent fish sauce which is a staple of Thai cuisine. Both are ‘naturalistic’ in the sense that you would expect to hear them in any of Bangkok’s soi, but one refers to a romantic fantasy world far removed from the realities of the streets while the other refers to basic household needs.

The editing suggests that the ‘driving’ shot was taken from the seafood vendor’s van, since we’re next listening to a sorrowful personal history told by the woman who works in the van. While she tells her story Apichatpong cuts away to show other street-scenes, including the election-campaign posters. What do these cutaways signify? That the filmmaker’s attention is wandering? That he isn’t very interested in this all-too-common story of personal hardship and familial injustice? That he wants to broaden the woman’s story by suggesting a connection with patriarchal Thai politics? The answer may well be all of the above, since we next hear Apichatpong’s own voice interrupting the woman’s tale of woe by asking her to tell a story. It’s she who comes up with the character of Dogfahr, tutor-cum-child minder to a boy in a wheelchair whose parents are always absent. She is barely through with her introduction of her characters before Apichatpong cuts away to his own staged enactment of the story she tells. This first instalment concludes with Dogfahr’s physical collapse; it’s when the boy tries to help her that the ball-shaped ‘mysterious object’ rolls out from under her skirt.

There are seven more instalments in Dogfahr’s story, improvised in deliberately varied locations at the ends of trips by road, rail and river. Ranging from Isan in the north to the southern areas near the border with Malaysia, the locations include a timber forest with working elephants to a school for the deaf-mute. All the journeying suggests an underlying desire to create a kind of gazetteer of Thailand in the late 1990s, built with no scientific rigour from these seemingly random spot-samples.

Apichatpong’s work during the long months of editing Mysterious Object at Noon parallels the way that Dogfahr’s story is told by unconnected strangers: his juxtapositions of urban and rural sights, of interviews and improvisations, of social observations and staged enactments all represent attempts to tease unseen dimensions of Thailand’s realities into view.

In its endearingly scattershot way, the film lays out many of the precepts which will inform Apichatpong’s future work. It launches the idea of ‘secret’ continuities from film to film: Dogfahr takes her disputatious father to a doctor for help with his diminishing hearing, and the scenes in a clinic at the start of Blissfully Yours feature an angry old man who accuses his daughter of breaking his hearing aid. It launches the kind of two-part structure which will be explored in the following three features: ‘Mysterious Object’ and ‘At Noon’ reflect back on each other, mapping the space between the structured and the random. It also launches Apichatpong’s exploration of the Thai landscape, both urban and rural, which will become an important element in everything he goes on to do. And it inaugurates Apichatpong’s recurrent use of the tiger as a paradoxical symbol of attraction and danger: the tiger here comes from the mouths of schoolkids, but it soon becomes the prime denizen of the forests of Apichatpong’s imagination.

Tony Rayns' complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the release.



A short excerpt from the booklet

Blu-Ray & DVD Reviews
The Arts Desk
by Tom Birchenough
DVD Beaver
The Geek Show
by Graham Williamson
Mondo Digital
by Nathaniel Thompson
CineVue by Ben Nicholson
Backseat Mafia by Rob Aldam
Herald Scotland
by Barry Didcock
DVD Compare by Eric Cotenas
Digital Fix by Mike Bartlett
MovieMail by James Oliver
CineOutsider by Slarek
Sight & Sound by Nick James

Film Reviews
Chicago Reader
- Jonathan Rosenbaum
Village Voice
- Chuck Stephens
Time Out
- Tom Charity
Variety - Deborah Young
The New York Times
- Elvis Mitchell
Unspoken Cinema
Talking Pix
- Howard Schumann
Reverse Shot - Joanne Nucho
A.V. Club - Scott Tobias
Ozu's World Movie Reviews
- Dennis Schwartz
Filmmaker Magazine
- Chuck Stephens

(i) Artists in Conversation: Apichatpong Weerasthakul
(ii) Apichatpong Weerasethakul: 'My country is run by superstition'
(iii) A Perceiver of Sense
(iv) The folly and future of Thai cinema under military dictatorship by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
(v) Mixing Memory and Desire: The Films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul
(vi) Apichatpong's favourite films

Disc Info

Thailand, 2000
Length / Feature: 88 minutes
Length / Special features:
48 minutes
DVD: Dolby 5.1 / 2.0 Stereo
Blu-Ray: 5.1 DTS-HD master audio / 2.0 Stereo LPCM (48k/24-bit)
Black and white
Original aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Language: Thai

DVD: PAL / DVD9 / Region 0
Blu-ray: BD50 / 1080 / 24fps / Region ABC
DVD: £12.99
Blu-Ray: £19.99
Release Date: 18 April 2016


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