Thailand is a treasure trove of filmmaking possibilities, and Isaan is the most precious treasure of all. I grew up there but only noticed this recently. Because of the region’s poverty, people from Isaan migrate elsewhere in search of employment, bringing with them their spirits. Because of this, the casualness and the animist nature of the North Eastern culture have spread across the country, and I have this idea that the North Eastern energy is the backbone of contemporary Thai society and culture.
– Apichatpong WeerasethakulSethi, M. (2014). Apichatpong Weerasethakul: the golden boy of indie cinema loves spending time at home with his dogs. [online] BK Magazine Online. Available at: http://bk.asiacity.com/movies/article/golden-boy-indie-cinema-loves-spen…. [Accessed 14 April 2014].
Landscape is crucial to the production of meaning in the cinema of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Since his debut film Mysterious Object at Noon (2000) the Thai director has made a number of feature films and installation pieces which have largely been set in Isaan a province in North Eastern Thailand where Weerasethakul spent much of his young life. The province shares a border with Laos and the histories of conflict between these two places casts a shadow over both the inhabitants and the character of Isaan. When questioned on the presence of Isaan in his cinema Weerasethakul states “Isaan people bring their haunted spirits with them throughout Thailand. There is dignity, there is anger. I admire their mad energy.”Gaweewong, G. (2014). Apichatpong Weerasethakul. [online] Art-it.asia. Available at: http://www.art-it.asia/u/admin_ed_itv_e/IA0DZ5obqPCeSsOjlXJ4 [Accessed 1 April 2014]. Weerasethakul’s method of exploring Isaan and its people is done through minimalist posturing focusing on establishing an aesthetic of ‘everydayness’. Matthew Ferrari (2006) focuses on Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s cinema through ethnographic discourse to explore “the evocation of local or traditional knowledge in an increasingly globalized Thai cultural setting, and how this is enacted formally by the society/nature dialectic.”Ferrari, M. (2006). Mysterious Objects of Knowledge: An Interpretation of Three Feature Films by Apichatpong Weerasethakul in Terms of the Ethnographic Paradigm. MA Dissertation, Ohio University. While I am less interested in the society/nature dialectic this paper will be drawing on work on cinema as ethnography by Ferrari to form the critical framework with which to address two questions how does Weerasethakul’s cinema create an aesthetic of ‘everydayness’ and how does the history of Isaan determine how landscape is depicted in Weerasethakul’s cinema? In reflecting on these issues I will focus on two recent films by Apichatpong Weerasethakul his most recent Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Weerasethakul, TH/UK/FR/DE/ES/NL, 2010) and his debut feature Mysterious Object at Noon (Weerasethakul, TH/NL, 2000) in order to demonstrate how these questions address recurring themes present throughout his oeuvre.
This journals stated interest in ‘everydayness’ within the cinema is in part a contemporary re-examination of the realist mode of filmmaking emerging in post war art cinema. We can trace Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s preference for the mundanity of ‘everydayness’ to his spoken inspiration from filmmakers like Tsai Ming-Liang, Bela Tarr as well as experimental filmmakers such as Bruce Baillie and Andy WarholQuandt, J. (2009). Apichatpong Weerasethakul. 1st ed. Wien: Österreichisches Filmmuseum.. In his PhD thesis on Slow Cinema Matthew Flanagan makes a similar point stating:
in order to productively situate Apichatpong’s work within existing traditions, the cinephile must look not so much to other practitioners of so-called ‘Asian minimalism’ (in particular, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Tsai Ming-Liang and Hong Sang-So) and everyday realists (principally, LIsaandro Alonso), but to key experimental filmmakers such as Nathaniel Dorsky, Bruce Baillie, and even Andy Warhol.Flanagan, M. (2012). ‘Slow Cinema’: Temporality and Style in Contemporary Art and Experimental Film. PhD Thesis, Exeter University.
The specific Thai influences on Weerasethakul’s cinema are less frequently discussed, at least among Western critics where the main focus is situating his work between trends in post-millennial contemporary art cinema and avant-garde practices. Tracing the development of a filmmaker’s style in this manner is not always the most useful task and can distract from the specificities and uniqueness of their work. There can also be I suspect an attempt by academics, of which I myself could be implemented in, to try and claim a filmmaker as their own, for example western critics citing non-western filmmakers influences to highlight their internationality or domestic critics citing their national influences to claim said director as being distinctly local. This happens regularly with Weerasethakul and rather than promote or argue that he belongs to either group I situate his work in a complicated space between the local and the global. Weerasethakul is a Thai filmmaker whose entire oeuvre is set in Thailand, whose films are spoken in Thai and a variety of Thai dialects yet his domestic audience is small, his films are financed by international production companies, exhibited in international film festivals and held in the collections of European art galleries such as the Tate who recently purchased his multiscreen installation Primitive. While with this article I am not really interested in trying to position his work within a particular environment I see it as important to establish or at least reflect on the position of Apichatpong as a global/local figure. His position as such is playfully acknowledged by his adopted nickname Joe used to prevent potential pronunciation difficulties with Western acquaintances.
When speaking of ‘everydayness’ as an aspect of Weerasethakul’s cinema and acknowledging his professed largely Western artistic influences and his auteurist cinematic leanings we recognise him as an internationally renowned artist and filmmaker. When Weerasethakul uses his camera to focus on Isaan and the exploration of the voiceless Thai inhabitants it becomes useful to place Weerasethakul as a transnational filmmaker whose films provide an international audience for the documenting of the marginalised individuals who populate Isaan. Without trying to suggest that they easily form a stylistic group what the combined aesthetics of Tarr, Ming-Liang and Warhol bring to Weerasethakul’s cinema is a preference for fixed static cameras, long takes, extended periods of silence and the use of non-professional actors. These filmmaking techniques are used by Apichatpong to represent his interpretation of the spirit of Isaan and a major part of his filmmaking philosophy is to create a working style which allows his vision of Isaan to emerge through his film in an un-dogmatic manner. To briefly adopt the language of various post-war realist movements, Weerasethakul tries to do is, ‘create a cinema of fact and reconstituted realism’. In his attempt to both honestly and truthfully document the everyday lives of the various immigrants, workers, soldiers, monks and doctors that populate his films Weerasethakul is also presenting a more mystical and potentially unobtainable truth which underlines their existence. These attempts at documenting the people of Isaan fall between two opposing ideals the poetic and the ethnographic. The striving for both poetic and ethnographic expression leads Apichatpong’s cinema to occupy a fluid space in between fiction and non-fiction.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Palme d’Or winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives focuses on a terminally ill middle aged man with acute kidney cancer. Like much of his work the film is interested in themes of memory and transformation. The film is set in North Eastern Thailand and is part of a larger multi-platform work called Primitive consisting of short films and installations exploring the memories and ideologies of a small town called Nabua located in Nakhon Phanom. Like much of his recent locations Nakhon Phanom falls within the area of North Eastern Thailand known as Isaan. Isaan is situated in North East Thailand and borders Laos and Cambodia. Its closeness to these countries has led to fluid migration and also to, despite Thaification policies from central Thailand, the area having a strong connection to Lao culture. Isaan has a population of 22 million and the main language spoken, known as Isaan, is a dialect of Lao. Alongside Isaan there are fourteen other languages spoken many of which by tribal minorities.
Much existing writing on ‘everydayness’ seeks to define it as the aesthetics of the daily routines we do without thinking and the benefits of focusing on such moments is that they contain a certain sincerity and honesty. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives focuses on the routines of Boonmee and the various tasks he has to perform on a daily basis. We see him having his bandages applied and re-applied, eating with his family and spending time with his sister-in-law Jen as they supervise and assist their largely Lao workers on their small plantation. The sequences which take place on the plantation are filmed with a static camera and the lack of movement emphasizes the observational elements of Weerasethakul’s filmmaking style. Setting up the camera into a fixed position and not readjusting the frame adds focus onto the duration of Boonmee’s everyday actions like picking fruit on the plantation or addressing his Lao workers. The static camera is suited to the scenes on the plantation as it creates a sense of slowness and serenity in the presentation of the pace of their environment and their way of life. As they systematically perform their everyday routines we learn much of the relationship between Jen and Boonmee. They spend almost every minute of every day together and as a result of their closeness they speak little as the relationship Boonmee and Jen share resembles that of a long married couple who are so comfortable in one others company that they feel no need to punctuate silences with small talk. In between the performing of their daily tasks small sequences demonstrate how important they are to one another. In one scene which comes after a day spent on the plantation Uncle Boonmee falls asleep and Jen sits over him watching. This sequence is fairly nondescript and amidst the Chewbacca like Monkey spirits and sexual intercourse with fish is easily over looked or forgotten but the intimacy Boonmee and Jen share is an important element of what inspires Weerasethakul to Isaan and its people. To underline the importance Weerasethakul grants this simple gesture the final shot of this scene is a close up, the only close up in this plantation set sequence which was mainly shot in mid shots capturing the rural landscape of the plantation.
Many of the everyday conversations between Boonmee and Jen demonstrate the recurring key themes and ideas in this and other examples of Weerasethakul’s work. One short sequence also set on Boonmee’s plantation features a conversation with Jen on the difficulty that many Thai people have in trying to understand their language which bares more resemblance to Lao than the conventional Thai spoken throughout the country. The conversation briefly addresses the possibility that Boonmee’s plantation may consist of illegal Lao immigrants. Though these are seemingly innocuous fragments of conversations the plantation owned by Boonmee is populated by migrant Lao workers presumably because they have left Laos in search of better opportunities in Thailand but also because many people from Isaan have already left for central Thailand leaving a dearth of local workers. The figure of the migrant is a recurring figure in Weerasethakul’s cinema for two main reasons. One is simply that as he chooses to film with non-professional actors in Isaan it is an inevitable consequence that he will encounter migrants and the second is that the figure of the migrant worker is closely linked to the themes of the border and the barrier. The themes which emerge out of the idea of the border and the barrier are regularly addressed in studies of Weerasethakul. Natalie Boehler’s (2011) recent essay The Jungle as Border Zone: The Aesthetics of Nature in the Work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul takes the opposing spaces of the jungle and the city in order to landscape in Weerasethakul’s cinema as representing a liminal space linking two opposing realms. In his cinema Weerasethakul explores the idea of duality and also uses this idea as a structuring device often conceiving of his films as consisting of two almost completely separate or opposing objects, Syndromes and a Century(Weerasethakul, TH/AT/FR, 2006) and Tropical Malady (Weerasethakul, TH/FR/IT/DE, 2006) are both structured in this way. Both films are split into two seemingly unrelated sections. In Uncle Boonmee… the film largely focuses on Uncle Boonmee and his past lives apart from a seemingly unrelated sequence taking place once he has passed away. In this sequence the focus is on Tong, Boonmee’s monk nephew, as he showers, eats a meal than has an out of body experience and he watches himself watch television. Boehler’s idea of the wilderness as a liminal space can therefore be extended to the structuring of Weerasethakul’s films as well as the various dualities which appear as recurring themes throughout his work. One of these dualities is that of the myth/reality which often takes the form of ‘haunted spirits’ puncturing the everyday. The ‘haunted spirits’ Weerasethakul refers to in the introduction to this essay is likely to be a reference to the political attacks which took place in the area throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s. The remoteness of Isaan and the regions close proximity to Lao Marxists led to Isaan being seen by the Thai government as a breeding ground for communists and this suspicion subsequently led to increased Guerrilla warfare and governmental forces occupying surrounding areas. There is a distinct lack of verifiable information relating to how many people lost their lives and the attempt to provide details of specific conflicts in the area is not a primary concern for Weerasethakul who is more interested in creating images to reflect the relationship between the day to day experiences of the people of Isaan and how the ‘haunted spirits’ of their past interact with the present.
In their video essay VideogramsofaRevolution (Farocki and Ujica, DE/RO, 1992) which chronicled the role played by television in the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime in Romania, Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica claim that their film was destined to ‘portray the past and to stage the present’. Weerasethakul’s films by mixing fact, myth and interconnecting different states of time ensure that while exploring histories of conflict the intention is to address the historical moment we are in in order to represent how historical conflicts cast a shadow over everyday life through the synchronization of past and present. In Uncle Boonmee… the ‘monkey ghost’ and the ghost of his ex-wife re-appear literally demonstrating the coming together of past and present. In this sequence the past and present share the same space. Narratively the emergence of both Uncle Boonmee’s ‘monkey ghost’ nephew and the ghost of his ex-wife is marked by a casualness by Boonmee and his family as no one present at the meal seems overly concerned by either mystical creatures appearance. The ghosts share the same space as the human characters with neither the humans nor the ghosts depicted as being in a hierarchical position. The simplicity of the appearance of the supernatural is reflected in Boehler who states:
there is a very sparse or sometimes even non-existent marking of the supernatural. The usual filmic codes such as fades, whoosh sounds, shock effects or similar, are hardly employed. Instead, Apichatpong’s aesthetic cultivates a kind of naturalism of the supernatural. Ghosts and spirits appear on screen without much spectacle.Boehler, N. (2011). The Jungle as Border Zone: The Aesthetics of Nature in the Work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies, 4(2), pp. 290-304.
Framing the ghosts amongst the family and having them fill the empty chairs on the table allow the ghosts to complete the family. The lack of a hierarchical position in this sequence between the human body and the bodies of the mythical creatures shows that Weerasethakul views both bodies as equal and makes the wider claim that within Thai culture the belief and acceptance of mythical creatures is ingrained within a national psyche. Having seen this sequence in two sparsely populated London cinemas I can attest that this scene prompted giggles in the audience on both occasions demonstrating in an admittedly unscientific way that ‘monkey ghosts’ are a slightly less everyday entity to London art house cinema goers. As well as establishing a non-hierarchical relationship between the body of mystical creature and the body of the human with this sequence Weerasethakul shows the inter-connectedness between past and present and of more specific relevance to Thailand and Isaan the way in which the past conflicts with communists still haunt the current inhabitants. In one sequence as he reflects on his life Uncle Boonmee speaks of his regret at all the communists he killed and his perceived crimes while fighting for Thai forces.
The existence of past and present within the same image recalls the Deleuzian crystal image which Deleuze defined as the splitting of the whole image into fragments containing reference to opposing temporal existences. Deleuze speaks of montage as being a cinematic technique which depicted this crystal image and while towards the end of Uncle Boonmee.. Weerasethakul uses montage in a very striking way it is in this sequence at the dinner table that through the simple use of superimposition within an extended long take that the merging together of two separate temporal moments as described by Deleuze takes place. Common cinematic examples of the Deleuzian crystal image include The Lady from Shanghai (Welles, USA, 1947) which features a literal splintering of the image creating a co-existence of the virtual and the actual, albeit within an image which is highly stylised and recalls the style of the German expressionists when in the films climax the showdown takes place in a house of mirrors. The crystal image as it appears in Weerasethakul’s film is an attempt to link the supernatural myths and spirits of the past with the mundanity of the present. When it appears it does so within the aesthetics of everydayness that Weerasethakul has established throughout the proceeding sections scenes of the film, the aesthetics of everydayness being the repeated uses of static camera and the preference for long shots showing the subject immersed in his or her environment.
In his study focusing on the ethnographic qualities of Weerasethakul’s cinema Ferrari states:
Apichatpong tries not “to speak for” local Thai villagers –allowing them to “speak for themselves” by deploying the exquisite corpse” form- he evokes the probelmatics of the much discussed ‘crisis in representation’ in anthropology and ethnographic film practice. Through Apichatpong’s formal attempts at subverting a singular authorial agent or ‘voice. Mysterious Object can fruitfully be treated as an alternative or experimental ethnographic film exercise.Flanagan, M. (2012). ‘Slow Cinema’: Temporality and Style in Contemporary Art and Experimental Film. p.6.
Ferrari’s concern in the section focusing on Mysterious Object at Noon is to argue that Weerasethakul’s film evokes ethnographic discourses and that the cultural traditions of the rural Thai villages depicted in the film represent the heart of Thai values. Ferrari argues that the claim made by the film coincides with attempts by a number of Thai figures to combat the homogenization of cultural identity brought on through globalisation by the promotion of local values. Ferrari draws from Craig Reynolds book National Identity and Its Defenders: Thailand Today who states how “local knowledge is seen as key to empowerment of the disenfranchised and dispossessed and as fundamental to proposals for alternative development”.Reynolds, C. (2002). National identity and its defenders. 1st ed. Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm Books. p.14. Weerasethakul’s film, through giving the Thai villagers space to ‘speak for themselves’, reflects the growing assumption of the cultural value of the rural Thai lifestyle. Through a consideration of the ethnographic framework developed by Ferrari alongside a consideration of the aesthetics of everydayness I will seek to explore the ways that the Thai rural landscape is depicted in Mysterious Object at Noon.
In order to avoid ‘speaking for’ local Thai villagers Weerasethakul regularly inserts himself into the film to peel away layers of reality and reveal the artificiality of the narrative act and the pretence of the filmic process. This peeling away of reality is arguably most clearly depicted in Weerasethakul’s debut feature The MysteriousObject at Noon. The film is an exploration of the surrealists exquisite corpse game where an idea is collectively assembled then each collaborator adds a phrase or image, conceals their creation and passes this on to a fellow collaborator with the end result being a collage of words or images created out of the fragments provided by the collaborators. In Mysterious Object at Noon Weerasethakul travels through Thailand interviewing people and asking various Thai to contribute to the episodic story. As pointed out by Ferrari Weerasethakul refutes the title of director for this film preferring instead to be known as being the individual who has conceived and edited the film. This action demonstrates Weerasethakul’s desire to avoid ‘speaking for’ the Thai villagers and the film documents Weerasethakul and his crew on their journey and the process of interviewing the various Thai people who submit contributions to the ‘exquisite corpse’ game. The game begins with a woman telling the story of her life. She speaks of a moment when her father who has run out of money sells her to her uncle when an of screen voice states ‘It can be real or fiction’ this presumably autobiographical story stops and the woman begins to tell another story. The story she tells revolves around a wheelchair bound boy and his teacher, Dogfahr, who as his only link to the outside world brings him photographs showing him images of things he is unable to witness for himself. The story is then picked up by a variety of people Weerasethakul and his film crew meet as they travel around Bangkok and visit small peripheral villages which surround it.
The film follows a loose structure of filming Weerasethakul and his crew as they travel to their next interviewing site, the interview which normally takes place in a domestic setting and the fictional recreation of the interviewee’s contribution to the exquisite corpse game. These responses and contributions are filmed in a variety of ways which reflect the different landscapes the filmmakers travel to but also to use the film to portray the relationship between the films subjects and their environment. Ferrari’s description of the film as an ‘experimental ethnographic exercise’ is granted validity as Weerasethakul displays the concerns of an ethnographer in conceptualising how to depict the lives of the people he encounters. The final result of the filmed stories is a mixture of authentic and scripted accounts obfuscating the boundary between reality and fiction. The exposing of the artificiality of the filmmaking process takes place most clearly in two sequences in the film.
The first sequence shows Weerasethakul walking in front of the camera to adjust the lighting. In doing this the scene allows one of child actors to break character and play around with the other actors and film crew documenting the playful and intimate atmosphere of the film set. The second sequence also features children and is set in a school. In the school a small group of children contribute their stories to the ‘exquisite corpse game’ and throughout the scene Weerasethakul keeps his boom microphone in sight as demonstrated bringing attention to his presence. These self-reflexive gestures differentiate his realist style of cinema from both the traditional Bazinian realism as well as his stated cinematic influences. These gestures move away from the so called Asian minimalism and recall the style of filmmaking Jean Luc Godard and his contemporaries were constructing in the late 1960’s and more avant-garde practices. The self-reflexivity of the film also shows the concern Weerasethakul has for creating a working environment which allows inspiration to come from improvisation. When discussing his working methods Weerasethakul describes how he allows his director of photography and his actors a free shot with which they can do whatever they like regardless of what has been previously intended. This process of filmmaking encourages the act of making the film to be recognised as a group effort taking away the figure of the director as being the creative force in favour of establishing an environment from which scenes can emerge from supposed ‘dead time.’ In Mysterious Object at Noon the self-reflexive gesture can be seen as an alternative method to acknowledge the problematic act of documenting a people or a culture but also to suggest that there is within the everyday experience of the people Weerasethakul films an inherent conflict between myth and reality. Whilst in Uncle Boonmee… the figures of myth and reality were represented by the various spirits engaging with the remaining members of Boonmee’s family in Mysterious Object at Noon the myth is represented by the myth making capacity of storytelling and the act of ‘documentary’ filmmaking while reality is demonstrated by these reflexive moments acknowledging the role the camera plays in myth making.
Boehler’s article defines Apichatpong’s complex exploration of the wilderness of the North Eastern Thai jungles as being a liminal landscape which creates fluid and flexible images of the areas various identities. Boehler states:
Apichatpong’s films address the liminality of this region: The rural setting, the distance from the nation’s centre and the cultural otherness are mirrored in various elements of the films such as the importance of local beliefs, the characters’ accents and the departure from official state order. The world of his films is that of small provincial towns with idiosyncratic everyday culture: The style of restaurants, temples, and open-air shows indicate a clear distance from the nation’s centre.Boehler, N. (2011). The Jungle as Border Zone: The Aesthetics of Nature in the Work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. p.296
The comparison between the urban and rural Thai landscapes is reflected not just in the depiction of the countryside but also in the attempt at establishing a cinematic tempo to reflect the contrasting speed between the rural way of life and the urban. The aesthetics of everydayness play a role in achieving this specificity. Though Boheler’s article does not focus on Mysterious Object at Noon the film is useful when discussing the contrast between urban and rural spaces as Weerasethakul and his film crew travel from remote Thai jungles to Bangkok which is the only time in the directors oeuvre (as of April 2014) which features these vastly different landscapes within the same film.
In Mysterious Object at Noon there is a scene which comes towards the end of the film and focuses on some young Thai schoolchildren contributing their stories to the exquisite corpse. In the interview with the school children a medium shot is used throughout ensuring the focus is on the school children, yet one corner of the classroom interior is in the frame giving an insight into the classroom. From what little of the school is in the frame it is clear this is a rural school from the overall wear and tear of the interior. In this sequence as in much of Mysterious Object at NoonWeerasethakul is filming intimate spaces in order to focus on the people who populate these spaces. On Weerasethakul’s use of landscape Boehler states:
Apichatpong’s cinematographic framing depicts landscape as a territory utterly unmarked by civilisation. There are frequent panoramic shots devoid of humans and of any icons of civilisation such as telephone poles, cross-country roads, or distant farmhouses. The countryscape appears as a wild, pre-modern land not yet staked out as anyone’s territory. Its unspoiltness is of a much more untamed nature than that of the agricultural rural idyll discussed previously that centres on humans; landscape here is savage, autonomous, and sprawling without a centre.Boehler, N. (2011). The Jungle as Border Zone: The Aesthetics of Nature in the Work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. p.297
In contrast with the sprawling sequences Boehler describes which feature regularly in films such as Syndromes and a Century and Blissfully Yours (Weerasethakul, TH/FR, 2002) the panoramic landscapes are largely absent in Mysterious Object at Noon and are replaced with claustrophobic interiors shot in shallow focus on 16mm. One reason behind the intimate interiors is undoubtedly a result of the lack of resources available to Weerasethakul at the time of making the film. Mysterious Object at Noon was the first feature film made by Weerasethakul and lacked the funding options available with later works. The focus on the intimacy of the interiors is also a reflection on the simplicity of the lives of the Thai villagers he is filming. When Portuguese director Pedro Costa was making Ossos (Costa, PT/FR/DK, 1997) in a small dilapidated housing estate known as Fontainhas in Lisbon he talks of arriving in the area with a full internationally funded film crew complete with 35mm cameras, tracks, assistants and floodlights before quickly realising that there was a contradiction between the methods of filmmaking and the environment they were trying to film. Costa states when the production trucks came into Fontainhas the quality of the roads and the size of the streets ensured that the trucks “weren’t getting through—the neighbourhood refused this kind of cinema, it didn’t want it.”Neyrat, C. (2014). Pedro Costa’s Fontainhas Trilogy: Rooms for the Living and the Dead. [online] The Criterion Collection. Available at: htp://www.criterion.com/current/posts/1425-pedro-costa-s-fontainhas-trilogy-ro… [Accessed 1 March 2014].
Mysterious Object at Noon reflects a similar conflict and the intimate filmmaking style reflects the close engagement with the Thai villager’s everyday experiences. The aesthetics of intimacy which feature in Mysterious Object at Noon reflect the style of the documentary with the interview sequences filmed using conventional interviewing techniques ensuring that the subject is filmed in mid-shot using a static camera. The interviews take place in non-dramatic everyday spaces. As well as the children’s school the subjects are normally interviewed inside domestic spaces. Russell states that experimental visual ethnographic forms are able to “circumvent the empiricism and objectivity conventionally linked to ethnography”.Russell, C. (1999). Experimental ethnography. 1st ed. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. p.11. Mysterious Object at Noonthrough its mix of intimate aesthetics highlighting “Everydayness”, self-reflexive gestures and the fictional story of Dogfahr demonstrates how despite the films commitment to documenting the lives of the Thai villages who feature in the film, by embracing the artificiality of the filmmaking process Weerasethakul’s film is liberated from the restrictions attached to traditional ethnographic forms.
Uncle Boonmee… and Mysterious Object at Noon come at opposites ends of Weerasethakul career yet both films reflect themes and ideas which recur throughout his oeuvre. While in Uncle Boonmee… Weerasethakul focuses on everyday routines he abandons the format of the Mysterious Object at Noon but still creates a film which focuses on the presence of myth in the Everyday. What the two films demonstrate is that our conception of the everyday as it occurs in cinema which whilst linked to a certain aesthetic style long takes, long moments of silence, static cameras and a tradition of documenting ‘reality’ Weerasethakul’s films create a reality of the unreal. Weerasethakul avoids attempting to retell historical conflicts which have affected North Eastern Thailand and avoids using his films as a linear tool transmitting the stories of the villagers into a grand narrative preferring instead through contrasting formal methods to explore the liminal spaces in-between reality and myth, in-between documentary and fiction. Through the aesthetics of the everyday his cinema depicts how mythology and the spirit of the supernatural are embedded in a specific experience of rural Thailand. The way the rural space is characterised has wider connotations for questions of ‘Thainess’ as Ferrari and Reynolds discuss how Isaan is specifically signalled out as embodying important notion of Thai culture in order to strengthen the regions Thai identity and combat the strong ties it has with Laos. The space of the wilderness in Weerasethakul’s cinema also serves to strengthen the connection between Thai identity and the culture of rural North-Eastern Thailand. On the role that location plays in his cinema WeerasethakulSpiritualityandpractice.com, (2014). Spirituality & Practice: Film Feature: A Statement and Q&A with Apichatpong Weerasethakul, by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. [online] Available at: http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/films/features.php?id=20854 [Accessed 6 April 2014]. states:
I have become interested in the destruction and extinction processes of cultures and of species. For the past few years in Thailand, nationalism, fueled by the military coups, brought about a confrontation of ideologies. There is now a state agency that acts as a moral policeman to ban “inappropriate” activities and to destroy their contents. It is impossible not to relate the story of Uncle Boonmee and his belief to this. He is an emblem of something that is about to disappear, something that erodes like the old kind of cinemas, theatres, the old acting styles that have no place in our contemporary landscape.