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  • 15
  • Drama
  • 2006
  • 105 mins

Syndromes And A Century

Syndromes And A Century

Synopsis

Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul's fifth feature is an enigmatic hospital comedy in which love, karma and memory are the in-patients

About

"It seems to lack form and order." So says orchid expert Noom (Pukanok) of his latest floral acquisition in Apichatpong Weerasethakul's fifth feature - but he might just as well be describing the film itself. As delicate, complex and strange as any rare orchid, and as unlikely to appeal to mainstream tastes, Syndromes And A Century more than delivers on the enigma promised by its bifurcated title.

The third in a looser-than-loose trilogy, Syndromes is, like Weerasethakul's Blissfully Yours (2002) and Tropical Malady (2004) before it, split into two narrative halves ("Two for the price of one," to quote Noom's sales pitch at the farmers' markets) that viewers will be left struggling to synthesise.

The first half opens with shy Dr Nohng (Iamaram) facing a barrage of idiosyncratic questions ("Do you prefer triangles, squares or circles?") from Dr Tei (Sawaddikul), who is interviewing him for a post in a rural hospital. Then comes a series of surreal consultations which refer as much to spiritual as medical maladies. An old monk (Kaewpakpin) is troubled by both aches and dreams of vindictive chickens. A younger monk (Kaewbuadee) has a check-up with a singing dentist (Cherkam), and later suggests that the dentist may be a reincarnation of his dead brother.

Meanwhile Nohng has fallen for Tei, and describes his lovesick symptoms to her; Tei's response (of questionable therapeutic value) is to tell him a story of her own past involvement with the orchid seller Noom, and of a Buddhist parable told to her by Noom's friend Pa Jane (Pongpas).

The second half plays like a distorted echo of the first. Some scenes are repeated (the job interview, the elderly monk who dreams of chickens, the younger monk who visits the dentist), although not verbatim, but there are also many new scenes. The setting is now a modern urban hospital, and Nohng is too entangled with his live-in girlfriend Joy (Saengtupthim) to pay much notice to Tei.

Rich in bizarrely droll incidents but meandering and inscrutable in its overall plot, metaphysical hospital comedy Syndromes And A Century is certainly not one for the multiplex crowd, although it will reward more adventurous viewers with its dry humour, its quirky mysticism and its narrative strands that never quite connect.

Its status as a commissioned work for Vienna's New Crowned Hope festival in celebration of Mozart's 250th anniversary goes some way to explain the film's concern with music (which plays a prominent role at the end of both its principal narratives), as well as its fugue-like structure of theme and variations; and it is also helpful to know that Weerasethakul's mother and father were both doctors who met, and eventually married, at a rural hospital.

Syndromes, however, adds up to more than the sum of its parts, as dense and dirty as life itself. If it is the director's autobiographical memoir, then it also imagines a parallel scenario in which he might never have been born. If it is a discourse on music and memory, then it deals with Thai country, karaoke and cheesy electro-pop rather than the traditions of western classicism. If it is an elegiac take on the 'progress' (scientific or otherwise) that modernity brings, then it is also a vision of karmic advancement and of ways in which the spiritual can persist in even the most clinical environments.

Syndromes And A Century will inspire bafflement and bemusement in those patient enough to see it through, but few will find the desultory fragments of its narrative particularly entertaining.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Sakda Kaewbuadee, Norathep Panyanavakij, Arkanae Cherkam, Sophon Pukanok, Sin Kaewpakpin, Jaruchai Iamaram, Nu Nimsomboon, Jenjira Pongpas, Apirak Mitrpracha, Nantarat Sawaddikul
  • Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  • Screen Writer: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  • Producer: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  • Photographer: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom
  • Composer: Kantee Anantagant

In a nutshell

For all its rare orchids, duplicated characters and genetic transformations, Syndromes And A Century is no Adaptation, but rather the dusty mess of life itself.

by Anton Bitel

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