Friday, January 25, 2008

Sang sattawat (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006) aka Syndromes and a Century

Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)
Rating: 9.7

Very few directors utilize the film medium in such a way Apichatpong Weerasethakul does. Of course Tarkovsky comes to mind, and perhaps a handful of others, but there is something about eliciting feelings and recreating dreams and memories that I find more engaging than narrative filmmaking. Syndromes and a Century is an exploration of memory and reflection for the director himself as well as the audience. The film is divided into two parts. As the Apichatpong explains, the first part recollects his parent's courtship. However this pretext isn't necessary for enjoying and understanding the film. To simplify things it's about different lives intersecting, and triggering memories and emotions through everyday seemingly innocuous events.
The first half of the film takes place at a small clinic where newly hired Dr. Nohng falls in love with another doctor. His confession of love to her sparks the story of her past love with an orchid expert. We are also introduced to a dentist who befriends a monk. As they get to know one another we discover the dentist is also a singer, while the monk once dreamed of being a DJ. In a touching scene the dentist asks the monk if he is the reincarnation of his brother who died when he was 8 years old. The dentist feels responsible for his death and wants a chance to apologize. The dentist offers the monk a toy horse that belonged to the his brother, however the monk explains that he was not a human and his past life so therefor cannot be his brother. So the dentist offers him his new album instead.
The setting and space evokes a certain warm emotion, as we see the sunshine beaming through open windows, lush greenery, and the comforting sounds of chirping birds. Occasionally the camera strays from the characters entirely and we are left with images of an open field or an eclipse. In the first half of the film the camera is mostly static with few very minimal movements in contrast to the second half of the film which includes a much more mobile camera reflecting the transition into a more modern environment. The second half of the film includes the same characters we met in the first half, and in fact some of the same events reoccur almost verbatim, except for the fact that the sequence of shots as well as the setting has changed, which in turns affects the relationships the characters have with one another. The setting becomes a large Metropolitan hospital with a much colder feel to it as machinery and the white walls replace the colorful palette created by the greenery and sunlight.
The environment is much more impersonal. This is most overt when the dentist and the monk reenact their meeting. Instead of forming a close bond, their is only awkward silence as the dentist performs his tasks. Only phrases like "open your mouth" and "rinse" are spoken between the two, leaving a sad emptiness when reflecting upon their relationship in the first half. Similarly Dr. Nohg never pursues the female doctor as they both have lovers already. The reflections the film triggers is the magic of it in my opinion. Syndromes and a Century is a film about memory that creates memories for the viewer to recall and compare these fractured scenes, making for a very cerebral experience.

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