Syndromes and a Century

"Extraordinary"

Syndromes and a Century Review


Amongst the most promising and enigmatic of young filmmakers, Thailand's Apichatpong Weerasethakul (he's given us express permission to call him "Bob") has been toying with the essence of human behavior and falling in love for three films so far. Unpredictable and smitten with time alteration, Weerasethakul's films are never easily readable and are constantly adrift in thick clouds of metaphysical allure. That being said, 2005's Tropical Malady didn't seem wholly successful, its disjunctive narrative hitting rough patches in its dreamy transitions. No matter; whatever may have been rough or unreadable in Malady has been smoothed out in Weerasethakul's latest, Syndromes and a Century.

Inspired by his parents' initial meeting and slowly-built romance, the film is split in half like duel panoramas, each full-bodied and with their own array of who's-its, what's-its, and how's-thats. The first half takes place around the time of the filmmaker's birth, flourished with a more colorful, hazy pallet. Dr. Toey (Nantarat Sawadikkul) floats through hospital corridors and the surrounding terrain, only really being bothered to deal with trifles and gently-approached flapdoodles. Besides interviewing Dr. Nohng (Jaruchai Iamaram), a military medic, Toey also sustains a marriage proposal from a shy orderly, a flashback to an affair with an orchid specialist and a conversation with a monk who eats too much chicken, makes potions for menstrual flow, and tries to scam meds for his order. There's also a dentist who sings karaoke to his patients and doubles as a town-celebrated crooner with designs on a monk who once had aspirations to be a DJ.

The second half, imagined during present-day technologically-sterilized zones in a high-rise medical center, basically retraces these lines but colors outside the lines with different crayons. The dentist isn't so forthcoming, Dr. Nohng has a fiancée, and the shy orderly has seemingly become more withdrawn. The fluidity of the humid first half is matched and the moments of natural beguilement (Buddha statues, trees swaying in the breeze) are replaced by whirling machines, scheduled maintenance, and an industrial vacuum/vent that might be a portal to the afterlife.

To decipher such a divine lamentation would be difficult and admittedly it still leaves this reviewer in a daze of heavenly imagery without many answers. Commissioned by the New Crowned Hope Festival, which has also commissioned films by Jim Jarmusch and Hao Hsiao-hsien, Syndromes strikes me as the most magical and hypnotic film to be released in some time, with an unquestionable distinction of being the filmmaker's best work to date and one of the year's best films. Aided by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, who worked on Weerasethakul's breakout film Blissfully Yours, the filmmaker has found a sublime diorama of both the living world and the untouchable ethereal. Space and time take precedence over plot and character, giving Syndromes an otherworldly aura that makes it an essential piece of cinematic art. Like the swaying trees that outline the medical center or the imploding glow of the Thai town that reflects off the dentist's glasses, its force is allergic to definition.

Aka Sang sattawat.



Syndromes and a Century

Facts and Figures

Run time: 105 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 13th June 2007

Distributed by: Strand Releasing

Production compaines: Backup Films, Centre National de la Cinématographie

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 37 Rotten: 5

IMDB: 7.6 / 10

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