Syndromes and a Century
2007, NR, 105 min. Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Starring Nantarate Sawaddikul, Jaruchai Iamaram, Sakda Kaewbuadee, Nu Nimsomboon, Jenjira Pongpas, Sophon Pukanok, Arkanae Cherkam.
REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., July 13, 2007
In the spirit of complete candor, I feel I should admit that I spent the majority of Syndromes and a Century completely lost. In my defense, I hung in there pretty well for a while: Despite the fact that the film is composed almost entirely of long shots, I managed to pick out and recognize the main characters – a couple of doctors, a few monks, a dentist – and I sensed with just the right amount of intellectual acumen that Thai director Weerasethakul was trying to say something with his detached camera placement about the emotional distance that separates people in our post-industrial world. (Not that he’s subtle about it: He even shoots a marriage proposal at 50 paces.) And though the storyline tends toward the more meandering end of the narrative scale (where Terrence Malick and Andrei Tarkovsky keep summer homes), there was a straight enough current amidst all those reveries for me to keep my bearings … or so I thought. Because when things suddenly went spinning off into abstraction halfway through the movie, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why: Characters started having the same conversations they’d had at the beginning of the movie, only in different places. And then came the repeated, ominous dolly shots of a Buddha statue, followed by extended visual poems starring a roomful of heavy machinery. Huh? What happened to those characters I was just getting to know? The cute country doctor, for example, who may or may not have had a love affair with a man who runs a plant shop and who is now fighting off the advances of a lovelorn janitor who is trying, unsuccessfully, to mope his way into her arms? Or the Buddhist monk who has recurring dreams about being attacked by chickens? Or the dentist who sings country music to erase the memory of having killed his brother when they were children? Where did they go? And why did they go there? And why have they been replaced by menacing smoke machines in sterile, fluorescent basements, never to be heard from again? Honestly, I can’t say. Watching Syndromes and Century is like reading a Samuel Beckett novel, only it’s slow, confusing, and bleak. Okay, so it’s like reading a Samuel Beckett novel. (AFS@Dobie)