A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Mysterious Object at Noon (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2000)

Conceived and edited by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Cinematography: Plasong Klimborron, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom

We tell stories to try to find meaning in what our senses provide us from the bewilderment of force and matter in which we exist. Stories become myths which become religions which eventually become science, our only bulwark of knowledge. Even when we sleep, our dreams are stories crafted out of the incessant neural storm. So it's not surprising that we love stories so much that we spend much of our lives telling them and hearing them. The story around which Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Mysterious Object at Noon whirls is begun by a traumatized young woman, who has just told her own story of being sold into servitude by her own father. Prompted to tell another story, one that she has heard or read, she speaks of a boy who can't walk, so he's tutored by a young woman. One day, she excuses herself from the lesson to go to the bathroom, and when she doesn't return soon, the boy rolls his wheelchair to another room where he finds the teacher unconscious. As he tries to move her to a bed, a mysterious object rolls out from her skirts. And there the young woman's story stops, only to be continued across the country of Thailand by a number of willing narrators prompted by the director and his crew. In the various elaborations on the premise, the teacher receives a name, "Dogfahr."* The object transforms itself into a boy, but one with shape-shifting powers, so he also takes the form of the teacher herself, leading to a confrontation between Dogfahr and her doppelgänger. Some narrators attempt to provide a backstory for the disabled boy: He survived a plane crash during the war that killed his parents. The story takes on political and social overtones, as well as being colored by movies and TV shows. The narrators range from villagers to a traveling troupe of players to a group of eager schoolchildren, as well as the filmmaker himself, who tries to convert these stories into a movie. The result is a fascinating mélange of fable and fact, of the imagination and the literal reality of Thailand as seen through Weerasethakul's camera eye. It's a hypernarrative: a story about telling stories.

*That transliteration appears in the subtitles, but it's often seen as "Dokfa" in sources that attempt to translate the film's original title, "Dokfa in the Devil's Hand."

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