Saturday, May 12, 2007

Syndromes and a Century

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century is a wonderful movie, a truly great film whose monumental status will become clear, I suspect, once the initial rush of its charming modesty wears off - that is, if enough people start paying attention. Although its narrative structure is radically experimental, with a rupture midway that is never explained or resolved, everything about the film feels warm, casual and stridently humanistic. Apichatpong loves his characters and their milieu and attentively explores the details of both without ever letting them overwhelm the bigger pictures of which they are always a part. It's also his funniest film, and its humor is the laugh-out-loud kind: an elderly female doctor pulls a hidden bottle of alcohol out of a spare prosthetic leg, a dentist serenades a monk while working on his teeth, a young woman spots her painfully lovesick would-be suitor peeking out at her from behind a Buddha statue. It's a film of moments and details compiled into disjointed, interrupted and unfinished narratives, held together by Apichatpong's immense affection for the people and places he films, and by an elegant structure whose overall shape is elusive enough to remain just out of the viewer's grasp until well after the theater lights come up.

I have more to say about the film and about Apichatpong's films in general, particularly his habit of splitting films in two, with one story cutting off midway through as another starts up. Syndromes is bracingly virtuosic in this regard, with the second half constantly returning to and echoing the first in surprising ways. Apichatpong even incorporates (almost) exact repetitions, which make up some of the most delightful moments of the film - the new angles, changed settings and slight alterations (mistakes?) provide welcome and humorous supplements to the earlier scenes. I'd like to think more about the film before getting into it much more, possibly making it down to the Siskel for a second screening before it leaves on Thursday.

Syndromes and a Century int'l trailer:

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