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January 16, 2008

Syndromes and a Century

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Sang Sattawat
Apichatpong Weerasethakul - 2006
Strand Releasing Region 1 DVD

I'm not sure if I can add any real insights to Syndromes and a Century except that I think I understand why the Thai government banned the film. First, it must frustrate the hell out of the government officials that the most critically acclaimed filmmaker is openly gay, and gets his financing from foreigners. Equally damning is that the filmmaker with the familiar name of Joe makes films that look nothing like either the Thai films made for Thai audiences, or something stately like The Overture, a Thai film for non-Thais. Joe's films lack the frame of reference that connect them with traditional Thai films which goes against the grain of a country where mainstream cinema means embracing the familiar.

Syndromes and a Century contemplates the differences between how we see ourselves and how others may see us. A statue of Buddha is seen several times, and there are several discussions about karma. While some of the characters may seek easy answers to their lives, the conclusion of the film is that one's karma is ultimately unknowable, most of all by other people.

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The structure of the film is in two parts, where some scenes are repeated, but varied in dialogue and setting. The idea of duplication is also carried out with characters mirroring the actions of others. The duplication also is in effect with a scene of the young female doctor dipping her hands in a lake, mirrored by a later scene of a young man imagining himself to be dipping his hands in water as part of Chakra healing.

The color scheme is deliberately hazy, pastels and light colors, as if there was little of substance. The characters are often photographed from a distance, making them appear a small elements of a larger, abstract universe. Syndromes and a Century could be likened to a series of dreams half remembered. We know we experienced something and can remember some random images, but any deeper meaning is impossible to grasp.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 16, 2008 10:14 PM


I love top ten lists when they lead me to movies like this one. I have yet to see it but I've been hearing nothing but positive buzz. Will definitely have to track it down.

Posted by: Marina at January 17, 2008 03:27 PM