Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Review: Syndromes and a Century: Thailand's Edition

  • Written, produced and directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  • Exclusive censored version for Thailand in limited, two-week release at Paragon Cineplex from April 10, 2008
  • Rating: 5/5

Love is fleeting, and the chance of making a meaningful connection with another human being is damn near impossible. And try as hard as you might to make that connection happen, it doesn't usually work out. Perfect moments are rare. Learn to recognize when they are happening and savor them.

Despite being gutted by censors, the core stories of Syndromes and a Century play out. A female doctor is pursued by a young man who trembles in her presence, and can barely get a word out, he is so terrified and awestruck by her strength and beauty. The female doctor, meanwhile, has her eyes on a handsome orchid grower, but the man clearly only loves his flowers. A dentist, who wishes he was a singer, develops a strange relationship with a Buddhist monk, who dreams he was instead a DJ. A male doctor is looking to devote his life to making a go of his career in a Bangkok hospital, but his girlfriend has plans to move to a remote industrial estate in the provinces. You can kiss that relationship goodbye.

None of these people are able to make that crucial connection, and it is all really very sad. One of the daily aerobic exercise sessions in a city park illustrates isolation. Even though the music is energetic -- celebratory even -- and people are dancing, they are all dancing alone. Hopping up and down, their hearts racing, but going nowhere.

Whether all this would have come to me while watching the uncut version of Syndromes and a Century for a second time, rather than the censored version, I'll never know. And, if one day I see this film on DVD or in a cinema outside Thailand, who knows what revelations will hit me then.

The utter futility of it all came to me sometime after the nearly 7-minute blanked-out "Doctors Drink Whiskey" scene, during which I nodded off and then came to once there was something happening again on the screen.

During the five other black-out scenes, in which scratched, black film leader replaces footage that was snipped away by Thai censors, I could have easily nursed my contempt for the authorities who butchered this near-perfect film, and said it was "devoid of artistic merit", but I'm over that. Instead, I tripped out on the colors of the scratches and became so mesmerized that when the action kicked back in, it was a bit of a shock.

Anyhow, it is time to move on. I want to see what Syndromes director Apichatpong Weerasethakul comes up with next, and will it also rile the Kingdom's cultural minders?

Can he make a film that makes a connection to the ordinary Thai people he depicts in his films, the hipsters and intelligentsia who champion his works and the elitist conservatives who feel so threatened by him, that they must belittle and humiliate the director and censor his films?

Oh, just an additional note: The film is preceded by Anthem, Apichatpong's "audio-visual purification service", and it is meant to serve a similar function to another reel that is commonly played before films.

See also:
(Cross-published at The Nation Weblog)

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