Mysterious Object at Noon AKA Dokfa nai meuman [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Second Run
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (4th May 2016).
The Film

Grand Prix: Apichatpong Weerasethakul (nominated) - Fribourg International Film Festival, 2002
Woosuk Award (Asian Indie Cine-Forum): Apichatpong Weerasethakul (won) - Jeonju Film Festival, 2001
Grand Prize: Apichatpong Weerasethakul (nominated) - Tokyo FILMeX, 2000
Dragons and Tigers Award (Special Mention): Apichatpong Weerasethakul (won) - Vancouver International Film Festival, 2000
NETPAC Award (Special Mention) and Runner-up Prize: Apichatpong Weerasethakul (won), Robert and Frances Flaherty Prize (nominated) - Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, 2001

A paraplegic boy's only access to the outside world is through teacher Dongfar who comes to tutor him daily. One day, she collapses and a mysterious ball rolls out from under her skirt when he tries to revive her. The ball turns out to be a star born which then becomes an alien child. The boy is by turns kind and malevolent, somehow incapacitating Dongfar and turning into her either because the paraplegic boy is lonely or for some other nefarious purpose. Dongfar is rescued by a neighbor when the alien boy turns into a giant and tries to kill her. The alien boy becomes angry when the paraplegic boy crippled as the only survivor of a plane crash does let him cure him and leaves, but then he comes back. Dongfar and the neighbor take the two boys to see Bangkok in the midst of a war. When the war ends, the neighbor abandons Dongfar and the boys who take jobs, respectively, as a singer/dancer and dishwashers in a club; and then there's a man-eating tiger...

After a seafood truck vendor tells the camera the story of how she and her parents moved to the city and then her parents sold her to her uncle they decided they wanted to return to the country and needed money for the fare home, offscreen director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) asks her to tell them another story, real or fictional, something she had read or to make up something. Weerasethakul's debut Mysterious Object at Noon is not a low-budget science fiction film but an attempt to transpose to film the surrealist game of the "exquisite corpse." In literature, multiple collaborators contribute in sequence words or a sentence based only on what the previous collaborator has submitted. In art, collaborators drawing on a folded piece of paper are only allowed to see the end of what the previous one has contributed. On film, Weerasethakul and his crew travel across Thailand, making stops for additional installments to the story from an old woman who gives them beer, teenage boys who mind the elephants of a timber forest, two girls from a school for deaf-mutes, the members of a traditional Thai song and dance troupe argue over and act out their section, and a boisterous group of schoolchildren offer two alternate endings. A quartet of actors visualizes the story, but even the comparatively formal style is disrupted by interjections from the filmmakers discussing the lack of cohesion in the unscripted story. We are never shown the story in its entirety "exquisite corpse" either as a sequential performance of the film-within-a-film or complete recital of the narrative, heavily fragmented as they are by their intercutting. Instead, the film ends with a long sequence detailing the aforementioned schoolchildren at play, as if to comment on the whole enterprise; a random skip through the imaginations with the strange ball replaced by a playground one.

Video

Second Run's second Blu-ray features an admirable 1080p24 MPEG-4 widescreen encode of a problematic source. The film was shot with 16mm reversal film and blown up to 35mm. The 16mm materials are lost so The Austrian Film Museum and Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Foundation had to utilize a 35mm dupe negative deposited by the director at the Austrian Film Museum for the 3K restoration. In creating the blow-up, the image was positioned high in the frame with pillarboxing and a black stripe along the bottom as a background for single-line subtitles (the first line of double-line subtitles appears on the frame). Since the subtitles were burned into the print, the restoration technicians tried to sharpen the top line subtitles that appeared on the image without effecting the image detail while digitally recreating the bottom line or single-line subtitles (thus, the font is slightly different between the two lines during double line subtitles). The earlier 4:3 standard definition PAL master from the 35mm blow-up was framed at 1.66:1. The 1.78:1 high definition image does not offer any more peripheral information over the older, suggesting the earlier master was slightly squeezed. Considering that both transfers came from a 35mm blow-up of a 16mm black and white reversal stock, the high definition version offers up improved detail hand-in-hand with heavier grain and superior contrasts. Lens flare and vertical scratches that occurred in-camera are more evident than before but are not out of place texturally (or even textually) with the film. Compression is not an issue as the bitrate is maxxed out at 35 Mbps.

Audio

The Dolby Stereo soundtrack has been mastered from the 35mm element's optical track and rendered here in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 along with an optional DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 upmix. The discrete surround option gives a bit of depth to the street scenes, music, and bullhorn announcements but not significantly more active than the original mix given the limited materials (the DAT tapes of the production audio are also lost).

Extras

Extras start off with Weerasethakul's 2007 short film "Nimit (Meteorites)" (15:54) which appears to document in its minutiae a family trip disrupted by a tropical storm. Although photographed out of focus (the jittering of the camera suggesting the telephoto end of a zoom and the softness possibly further use of the camera's digital zoom or post-production enlargement), the images nevertheless draw in the viewer. In Apichatpong Weerasethakul in conversation with Mehelli Modi (26:40), the director discusses his beginnings with the Second Run DVD founder. The son of a pair of doctors who chose a remote post in northern Thailand, Weerasethakul's early life consisted of the hospital, school, and the cinema where he was exposed to Hong Kong, Indian, and Thai film before an influx of eighties Hollywood product. Going to Chicago to study film without realizing that it was an experimental film school, he developed a more diverse interest in world cinema and surrealist artwork, particularly the "exquisite corpse" drawings that influenced the construction of Mysterious Object at Noon. Although Modi inquires as to whether the style of storytelling and the Dongfar story itself have their origins in Thai culture and folklore, Weerasethakul explains that they originate with his own interest in film structure and the relationship between sound and image. About the Restoration (7:09) offers before and after looks at film's scanning and grading with context provided by the Austrian Film Museum's head of restoration. Another account of the film's restoration is included in the enclosed booklet along with an essay by Tony Rayns who first saw the film on a time-coded videotape given to him by the director at a festival in 1999. He makes a case for the film as consisting of two parts: Mysterious Object being the telling of the Dongfar story, and At Noon the sequence of play by the children.

Overall

Second Run's second Blu-ray does an admirable job with a problematic source that is unlikely to be bettered short of the discovery of better materials (and even then, that may be more likely an archival restoration than a home video upgrade).

 


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