DOFKA NAI MEUMAN (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2000)

This comment originally appeared as an entry in the 100 Greatest Asian Films list. However, today I have dropped it in favor of another film.

French poet André Breton founded Surrealism in the mid-1920s, inventing the parlor game cadavres exquis, in which members of a gathered group each contributes the next sequential part of a made-up story as a means of unearthing group unconsciousness, thus affirming group consciousness. This “pure psychic automatism,” as Breton called it, could generate fantastic, unexpected images that social strictures would otherwise suppress.
      Educated at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul has adopted Breton’s “Exquisite Corpses” to create an ebullient documentary. Apichatpong traveled throughout rural and urban Thailand interviewing ordinary people, each of whom contributed a line, an episode, whatever, to a continuous piece of make-believe about a handicapped child and his teacher, Dogfar. Some of the shown interviewees are making up their contribution; others, plainly, are drawing upon their own experiences. The result that Apichatpong fashions, in ravishing black and white, is a seamless, breathing fabric of people at work and in their daily routines, each in their different environment, interwoven with whatever each soul contributes to the ongoing “story,” as well as Apichatpong’s visual imaginings—dramatic enactments—of these contributions. A good deal of Keatsian negative capability is needed to navigate this eclectic, unsignposted movie.
      Apichatpong has said he is “interested in the possibilities of involving both fact and fiction in the same film.” His method sounds out the space where reality and imagination intersect and interact. Although this isn’t a lyrical film, the outcome resembles Vertov’s Three Songs of Lenin (1934), whose sum is a composite national portrait. Weerasethakul’s hymn to humanity, moreover, bursts with sounds of children at play.
      Incidentally, the title Dokfa nai meuman translates literally as Dogfar (or Heavenly Flowers) in the Hands of Devils. Here, it is called Mysterious Object at Noon. Close enough.

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