“Instead of depicting life and death dramas of patients in jeopardy, Weerasethakul focuses on herbal cures, reincarnation, the quirky private lives of monks, orchids, romance, holistic healing techniques, and the tranquil beauty of the natural world.”
‘Syndromes and a Century’, directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul in 2006, is a Thai movie that, like the director’s earlier film ‘Tropical Malady’ is split into two distinct halves. The film is set in two hospitals in two different times. The first half is set in a rural hospital and follows small incidents in the lives of the doctors and the patients. The second half is set in a modern, urban health centre and features the same scenes with the same dialogue, but with different perspectives and significances. The director initially wanted to make a film about his parents and this plan morphed into this strange and slightly impenetrable meditation on the real world and on the effect of time passing. There is a sense, as in ‘Tropical Malady’ of a descent into darkness here. In his earlier film, the second half played out as a mythological parallel to the earlier romantic scenes. In ‘Syndromes and a Century’, the urban scenes seem to almost offer a critique of the nostalgic, Panglossian idyll of the opening half with lingering shots of fields and countryside. The thing that seems to bind the two halves together is the presence of Buddhist monks and their surprising sense of playfulness. There is a feeling of improvised genius with this film, the sense that Weerasethakul is almost making the story up as he goes along, which he was. But in reality, the story grows out of the setting and the performances, like a rehearsal but played out on screen.
Would I recommend it? Yes – as with ‘Tropical Malady’, there is something truly original here and Weerasethakul has much to say about the relationship between landscape, location and the small intimate stories that can occur in real life. Watch in a double bill with his earlier film.