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Syndromes and a Century


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#1 Overstreet

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 10:59 PM

I'm dizzy with joy.

What an extraordinary movie. Syndromes and a Century is a transporting, hyponotizing experience... a long poem about fragile threads between eras; tenuous connections, or attempts to connect, between starkly different people; possibilities and questions that rise like like feathers and then drift off unanswered; conversations that happen in one context, then in another, provoking us to consider what the differences convey about worldviews, genders, and differences between the intellect and the heart. It's entirely unpredictable in the best ways. And it contains three or four of the most breathtaking scenes I've ever experienced, reminding me of moments like that miraculous wave of wind in Tarkovsky's The Mirror.

I was reminded of many other favorites, films that could not be more different:

from Songs from the Second Floor, the way it is mournful, and yet somehow darkly funny, with moments of inspired surrealism;

to Yi Yi, with its emphasis on reflections, divided frames, opportunities missed, paths taken and regretted, and crossroads;

to Tony Takitani, with its slow, steady pace gliding from scene to dreamlike scene;

to The World, with deep-focus, layered images that offer commentary on global change;

to Inland Empire, with moments of Lynchian foreboding and slow zooms;

to Code Unknown, with its buoyant, rhythmic finale.

Clearly, I've only scratched the surface with this first viewing. But I'm confident this is going to become an all-time favorite. It's beautiful to watch, and each scene could merits plenty of meditation and discussion.

On this first pass, I'm haunted by a moment when two groups of people pass in a hospital corridor. One is a group of uniformed nurses, representing a particular work, a particular order, a particular perspective. The other seems to be a group of students. The groups pass each other. But in each case, one member falls behind, pausing to tie a shoelace. This suggested to me that the film's constant juxtapositions -- men and women, civilization and nature, old and new, religious and scientific -- are asking a question about what it is we have in common, what it is that we share no matter what our path. The shoelace suggests a flaw, but a connection that can be found through that imperfection.

But there is also a sense of real loss, and even destruction, as we move from one world to the next. The power and purity of sunlight is captured in moments of unforgettable glory here, but the sterility and suffocating artificiality of some of the hospital environments gave me a sense of dread not unlike the nightmarish future of Brazil.

I feel as though I had better stop writing, or I will sit here working on this post for the next several hours.

But... oh, wow.

I'm reluctant to read any reviews just yet, because my head is spinning and I don't want to read anybody else's interpretations just yet. As I scan down through the blurbs on Rotten Tomatoes, I see that one fellow criticized it because "Nothing happens." That does it. I don't want my enjoyment to be cluttered by somebody else's dismissals.

He couldn't be more wrong. In fact, some of the film's furious tension comes from the fact that something enormous is happening here, and it is happening while two women sit under a tree and talk casually, apparently oblivious to how the world -- and cosmic bodies beyond it -- are turning. And somewhere, a dark and frightening vacuum is sucking up the vapors of an era and all of its memories and wisdom.

Edited by Overstreet, 23 February 2008 - 11:06 PM.


#2 Greg Wright

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 11:19 PM

So spill the beans. Where did you see it? Is it available on DVD? What have I missed?

#3 Overstreet

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Posted 23 February 2008 - 11:36 PM

It's out on DVD. I've had it at the top of my queue on hold, waiting for its release.

Next up: Private Fears in Public Places

Hmmm. What to do? Syndromes didn't ever "open" here. It only played a few festivals. I'm thinking I might save this for my 2008 list, since it wasn't distributed widely in the U.S. until this DVD...

But then, the film is actually two years old, so perhaps I should list it as a 2007 film, since most U.S. critics had a chance to see it in '07 at one festival or another. (I couldn't attend its Seattle screening last year, and I was bothered all evening, having a sense that I was missing something special. Was I ever!)

Edited by Overstreet, 24 February 2008 - 12:07 AM.


#4 Greg Wright

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 08:34 AM

That's good to know. When you posted, I looked it up on IMDb -- and it had neither a theatrical nor a DVD release date for it. Thanks!

#5 Nathaniel

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 12:40 PM

I saw this at the historic Silent Movie Theatre in L.A. last month, long after its brief run in U.S. theaters last April. It's an excellent example of the kind of Asian art film that's captivating American critics right now—it ranked #4 in this year's indieWIRE critic's poll.

I also learned how to pronounce the director's name, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, which alone was worth the price of admission!

#6 opus

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Posted 08 April 2008 - 11:05 AM

As some of you might know, Syndromes and a Century was banned in its native Thailand because Apichatpong refused to make several edits requested by the censorship board (listed here).

According to Kaiju Shakedown, Apichatpong has resubmitted his film, and has agreed to the requested edits -- in a manner of speaking.

QUOTE
Instead of taking out the six shots, as most movies do when ordered to cut, the filmmaker will attempt to turn this "decree of amputation," as he calls it, into a form of dissident art. At the points where the six "inappropriate images" are supposed to be, Apichatpong will either leave black or scratched frames for the entire length of each shot. The shortest one lasts a few seconds and longest seven minutes.

"I'd like the audience to feel that they're forced to be in the dark, while the scratches signify an agent of destruction," he says. "If censorship is still with us, then maybe this is how we should watch the movies."


More info here.

#7 D. Adam

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Posted 01 July 2008 - 02:23 PM

I finished watching this film over my lunch break today (only had ten minutes left). Put the Netflix envelope in the mail slot and immediately wished I hadn't. This film demands rewatching, if only because I didn't get it. I understood parts, but not the whole.

I enjoyed the atmosphere, the visuals, the ambient sounds and (surprising) music. Loved some of the character interaction, especially the scenes with the monks. I liked the film quite a bit, but I'm tempted to relegate it to "screensaver movie" status. I can't, though, because I've got the feeling that something else is at work here. Maybe. Re-reading this thread has helped a little.

Also, I'm not sure why some consider it sci-fi. I saw nothing pointing in that direction. Any thoughts?