Thursday, January 17, 2008

Syndromes and a Century on DVD

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's groundbreaking Syndromes and a Century was released on DVD on Tuesday in the U.S. The film was subject to censorship in Thailand, and will likely never be released here. Picked up by Strand Releasing, the DVD is of course the complete version, and it has English subtitles.

The film was commissioned in 2006 for Peter Sellars' New Crowned Hope festival in Vienna, to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth.

Syndromes and a Century premiered at the Venice Film Festival, and then went on to be screened at many more festivals throughout 2006 and 2007, including the New York Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, the London Film Festival, Vancouver, Pusan and Rotterdam.

It came home to Thailand in March 2007, where it was screened once for the press, with a limited release planned for early April. But then the censorship board informed Apichatpong that he would have to cut four seemingly innocuous scenes. Rather than cut his baby, the director pulled the film from release. (Update: It was later screened at least twice last year in Bangkok, on November 16 and 17, when Apichatpong introduced it at Alliance Francais.)

Syndromes and a Century made the rounds in theatrical releases in North America, France, the U.K. and elsewhere over the past year. The film is one of the centerpieces of a program devoted to Apichatpong's works this week at New York's Anthology Film Archives. It was listed on the year-end best-of lists of many notable critics.

I think that the more praise that is heaped on this film will only cause the conservative clique in Thailand's Culture Ministry to strengthen its resolve, which likely means more independent films will be punished if indie directors have the temerity to try and release them in Thailand. Or, there's the hope that so much rabble will be roused by the underground film scene, that the establishment will crumble. It's going to be an interesting year in Thailand.

Now, the DVD reviews for Syndromes and a Century are starting to roll in. Peter Nellhaus of Coffee, Coffee and More Coffee is one of the first to weigh in. I don't want to steal too much of this thunder, but I can't help myself, because he so succinctly states the case:

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 is available at Get one for yourself and order extras for your friends.


  1. Thanks for the mention. It will be interesting to know if the DVD finds its way into Thailand and if it through legit sources or the friendly, neighborhood street vendors.

  2. It's great that this amazing film, by one of Thailand's (and world cinema's) greatest directors, is out on DVD, and so sad that it can't be released here in Thailand.

    It has been screened twice since the original Bangkok press showing, however. On 16th and 17th November last year, Apichatpong introduced it at Alliance Francais, Bangkok.

  3. Peter, I think the DVD will find its way into Thailand through both sources. I know one shop that stocks Joe's foreign-released works.

    Mat, thanks for making that connection. I had forgotten about the Alliance screenings. I must have been under a rock those two days. For now, that is one outlet for directors: arranging small screenings under the auspices of an organization like the Alliance, or at a festival.

  4. i'm glad that the dvd has given me the chance to see the movie because the movie is quite good. but the dvd is junk. as far as i'm concerned, hardsubs are worse than not having any subtitles at all. and the aspect ratio doesn't track correctly on all dvd players (my preferred player plays the dvd as if it were a terrible pan & scan full screen). i am also suspicious of the print quality and color.


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