A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Friday, March 16, 2018

Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)

Dr. Toey: Nantarat Swaddikul
Dr. Nohng: Jaruchai Iamaran
Noom. the Orchid Specialist: Sophon Pukanok
Toa: Nu Nimsonboom
Pa Jane: Jenjira Pongpas
Ple, the Dentist: Arkanae Cherkam
Sakda, a Monk: Sakda Kaewbuadee
Old Monk: Sin Kaewpakpin

Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Screenplay: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Cinematography: Sayombhyu Mukdeeprom
Art direction: Akekarat Homlaor
Film editing: Lee Chatametikool
Music: Kantee Anantagant

Syndromes and a Century is the kind of film that is apt to have some people say, "It's like watching paint dry." And that's what makes it so fascinating. During the long stretches in which the viewer has nothing to do but watch an odd dark oval, the aperture of some kind of device that seems to be vacuuming up smoke from a room full of mysterious medical equipment, we're left with nothing to do but meditate on how that oval suggests a black hole, or how it echoes a solar eclipse earlier in the film, or how medical technology seems alien, or to wonder nervously whether the hospital in which the scene takes place is on fire. Things happen in Apichatpong Weerasethakul's film; sometimes they even happen twice, a kind of reincarnation of earlier events -- Weerasethakul is fascinated by the belief in past lives. But the events are there for us to assemble in our imaginations: The film isn't going to that work for us. A doctor has a somewhat oddball interview with a job applicant, who later reveals that he's madly in love with her, whereupon she tells him of her inconclusive relationship with a man who collects orchids. A dentist works on a patient, a Buddhist monk in saffron robes, and begins singing to him. Later, the two meet in a scene in which the dentist speculates on whether the monk might be the reincarnation of the brother for whose accidental death he blames himself. It's also clear that the dentist has something of a crush on the monk. A young doctor's girlfriend wants him to move with her to a burgeoning new city, and shows him pictures of the industrial construction there as if it were some kind of enticement. They start to make out and he gets an erection. An older doctor, a hematologist, tries to treat a younger doctor's patient, who has suffered from carbon monoxide inhalation, by healing his chakras. When it doesn't work, the young doctor tells her he had already tried that. And so on, through various incidents that somehow echo one another but stubbornly refuse to be assimilated into a conventional narrative. Unlike Weerasethakul's other films, Syndromes and a Century take place in a scientific culture at which untamed nature only laps furtively around the edges. The settings are modern hospitals, not plantations or jungles, and there are no ghosts or forest monsters on hand. But for all that, the world remains as haunted and mysterious as the worlds seen in Tropical Malady (2004) and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010). Weerasethakul has been compared to Michelangelo Antonioni in his technique of introducing situations and settings that never quite resolve themselves into completed stories, but where Antonioni was filled with angst by the world's intractable conflicts, Weerasethakul seems content to enjoy the mystery without worrying about its implications.

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