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Syndromes and a Century
 

2 September 2006

 

 

 

Variety                        Screen                    Laurenzo Codeli         Le Monde

 

 


Courtesy: Image.net (Apichatpong on the 2nd left)

 

Lorenzo Codeli, Italian critic and scripwriter for a documentary on Thai cinema.

Look at the New Crowned Hope Festival web for Mozart's 250 th in Vienna production of Apichatpong's. First press screening coldly received. I found some parts quite enjoyable (like a romantic guitar song played by one character in a 'Mozartian' way), some other boring. A personal memoir by the director about his doctor parents.

The Italian papers I read are more or less positive about Apichatpong's movie, but unfortunately he's not known since none of his former movies has been released in Italy , not even TROPICAL MALADY which was produced by Marco Muller and Rai.

 

Variety http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117931429?categoryid=31&cs=1

By LESLIE FELPERIN Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Aug. 30, 2006 . (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Mozart's Visionaries.) Running time: 104 MIN

Syndromes and a Century," the latest self-enclosed cinematic enigma by Thai helmer Apichatpong Weerasethakul, offers sporadically mesmerizing imagery and a miasma-like atmosphere but only fits and starts in the way of plot. Bisected, like Weerasethakul's previous pics "Blissfully Yours" and "Tropical Malady," action revolves around assorted characters working at or visiting two provincial Thai hospitals. Pic lightly brushes against notions of memory, love and reincarnation and will no doubt have the small but loyal clique of Apichatpong fans stroking their chins at fests, but theatrically, "Syndromes" would get the B.O. bends as anything other than a niche release.

Pic reps one of several film projects backed by the New Crowned Hope festival initiated and funded by the city of Vienna as part of the celebration marking the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth. However, any connection found in "Syndromes and a Century" to the works or life of Mozart would be entirely coincidental, as such a venture was never the aim of the filmmakers in the first place.

Even so, at a stretch pic's structure could be described as somewhat fugue-like with its play of repetitions with variations. For instance, pic's opening scene takes place in a hospital office where young femme Dr. Toey (Nantarat Sawaddikul) asks army-trained Dr. Nohng (Jaruchai Iamaram) not just why he studied medicine, but whether he has any pets and to explain what DDT stands for ("Destroy Dirty Things?" he suggests).

Halfway through the movie, the same thesps do the scene all over again with slightly different dialogue in another hospital room, only this time the camera is trained more on Toey's face than on Nohng's.

Several other scenes are likewise reprised, but each time the dominant mood of the second variation is cooler, brisker and less intimate. Perhaps explaining this tonal shift, the helmer comments in the press notes that the first half of the film is "for his mother, and the second for my father." (Both parents were doctors.)

Nevertheless, like Apichatpong's other features, "Syndromes" defiantly resists easy interpretation. Despite the presence of various colorful characters -- a monk who wants to be a DJ (Sakda Kaewbuadee, an Apichatpong regular); a dentist who sings (Arkanae Cherkam) -- pic teeters just on the edge of abstraction, especially given the helmer's fondness for holding for long, beautifully composed takes that drink in sun-dappled landscapes, corridors and statues.

One hypnotic shot observes a funnel simply sucking in smoke for what seems like minutes as the soundtrack (creepily designed by Shimizu Koichi) grumbles and throbs ominously.

By the end, nothing much has happened, but all the same, pic casts a witchy kind of spell with its deep-breath pacing and undertow of unspecified malaise.
 
A New Crowned Hope (Austria) in association with Fortissimo Films, Backup Films, in co-production with Anna Sanders Films (France), Tifa (Thailand) presentation of a Kick the Machine production (Thailand), with the participation of the Fonds Sud Cinema, Ministry of Culture and Communication, CNC, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Produced by
Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Executive producers,
Keith Griffiths, Simon Field, Eric Chan, Tiffany Chan.
Co-producers,
Pantham Thongsang, Charles de Meaux.
Directed, written by
Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Casting: Nantarat Sawaddikul, Jaruchai Iamaram, Sophon Pukanok, Jenjira Pongpas, Arkanae Cherkam, Sakda Kaewbuadee, Nu Nimsombon.
(Thai dialogue)
Camera (color), Sayombhu Mukdeeprom;
editor, Lee Chatametikool;
music, Kantee Anantagant;
production designer, Akekarat Homlaor;
costume designers, Virasinee Tipkomol, Askorn Sirikul;
sound (Dolby SRD), Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr;
sound designer, Shimizu Koichi .

 

Screen Daily http://www.screendaily.com/story.asp?storyid=27462&r=true
By Dan Fainaru

Unconventional enough to please fervent admirers of his previous work like Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes And A Century is, even more than its precedents, a visual notebook that resists all temptation to opt for a narrative, instead staying faithful to its enigmatic title.

Divided into almost equal halves and vaguely based on the director’s childhood memories, which are then transplanted into different backgrounds and periods, it portrays a female doctor’s tentative courtship in a country hospital some time ago, then switches it to a modern facility.

Since there is no real story to tell, the audience is invited to use the images as incentives for personal reflections in the tradition of art cinema. Whether those reflections are ultimately identical to the ones intended by the film-maker is less important than that their imagination is fertilised by what they see on the screen.

One of the new Crowned Hope projects, initiated by the city of Vienna to celebrate Mozart Year, Weerasethakul's effort – which competed at Venice - responds to the artistic demands of opera and theatre director Peter Sellars’ commission. But it stands little chance with regular film audiences, who might consider it a curiosity at a festival or in avant-garde events, but notice it less in a neighbourhood cinema.

Weerasethakul, whose parents were both doctors, claims the first part of Syndromes And A Century is dedicated to his mother and the second part to his father; he even went back to his hometown, Khon Kaen, in north-eastern Thailand, but very little of what he remembered from his childhood still existed.

The film is essentially a reflection on the changing shape of things, just as the title promises. The differences go beneath the initial ones in which rural medics and traditional medicine are contrasted with the modern age. There are also hints at Buddhist speculations on previous incarnations and relationships with the spiritual world.

Thus Weerasethakul sharply contrasts the pastoral green and soft country contours of his memory and the hard bleached surfaces, long white corridors and starched uniforms of doctors and nurses of the present. But he also shows how the old clay buddhas in the gardens at the start are later dwarfed by massive bronze statues, and how the vast green fields spread wide are erased by concrete and cement with patches of pastures designed by human hand.

Employing a cast of amateurs who have never appeared before in a film - and who are less supposed to act than simply be - Weerasethakul sticks, for the first half, to a static camera, always in long or medium shots and rarely changing angles. One shot of a green pasture, entirely accompanied with sound off-screen, suggests memories of Marguerite Duras' experiments in India Song (1975).

In the second part the camera starts moving and the cutting is more flexible, if far from conventional. But a wicked sense of humor starts to sneak in, whether through the different kind of songs on the soundtrack (a dentist sings ballads in the first half; techno features in the second) or seeing a woman doctor pulling a stiff drink out of an artificial limb to re-comfort her before going live on TV (which she does for free, she says, because state TV never has the funds to pay its contributors).

In both halves, however, images are bright, the use of landscape exemplary and framing and depth of the shots remarkably accurate.

Weerasethakul himself has said that the approximate repetition of the first part of the film in the second is a reference to re-incarnation; it is also tempting to add that, since this is part of a Mozart celebration, this analogy could also extend to musical variations on more than one theme. Granted, they may be more in the spirit of Philip Glass than Mozart - but then, this is the whole point of the exercise.

Le Monde, Jean-Luc Douin, article published in the 02-09-2006 edition, www.lemonde.fr

The cinema seen as a rear-view mirror at La Mostra Festival

translated by Caroline Bricaud, AIT

There is obviously nothing comparable between the way the Americans (i.e. Brian De Palma, Allen Coulter) and Apitchatpong Weerasethakul look at the past. Syndromes and a Century is a tribute of the Thai film-maker to the peaceful atmosphere of the hospital, where his parents used to work as doctors.

Since Blissfully Yours (where the desire degenerate into psoriasis) and Tropical Malady (where the excess in happiness simply stirred up tropical fevers), we already know that Weerasethakul is a kind of painter dedicated to the medical symptom of the Passion. We also know him as an enthusiastic two-parts film-maker, whose films actually explain the same story according to two different ways.

Syndromes and a Century opposes a time vowed to human contacts, truck and story-telling-afternoons with a present time where white collars [i.e. nurses], state-of-the-art technologies, cell phones and lobbies have superseded anything else. He definitely pleads for pic-nics, contemplating devotion (see the beautiful shots of a small and uninhabited village in the night, neon lighted, and surrounded by a guitar tune), the culture of wild orchydes, as well as for the transformation of medical centres into nap areas or playgrounds.

Felled in love for his colleague, a young medical student confess that his “heart is burning”. Whereas a Buddhist monk visits the hospital in order to treat his nightmares (he dreams that he becomes a chicken).

The treatment of urticaria through roots broth, the dentist (who is also a mis-DJ) who sings a song, the massage of an atrophic leg with river sludge have been replaced today, as a metaphor, by legless people and youth carrying prosthesis. Antipersonnel land mine ever went by there. Weerasethakul is also ironic on the fitness-cult. To his world belong the rebirth, Buddha, Chakra, and spirits that are eventually soaked up in a canalisation. In this starting century the Material seems to infect the Spiritual.

   
 

 

 

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