It doesn’t seem fair to fit words to Apichatpong Weerasethakul‘s heady "Syndromes and a Century," which stops short of the fever dream logic of his 2004 "Tropical Malady," but still dwells in a preternatural world outside any traditional narrative context. The film is inspired by Weerasethakul’s parents, both doctors, and the childhood he spent in a hospital environment. Like "Tropical Malady," it’s split into to two parts that have no direct causal bearing on each other â€” the first half takes place at a languid rural hospital and follows the female Dr. Toey, while the second restarts the story with all of the characters now working in a sleekly modern urban facility, and this time tracks the male Dr. Nohng. The stories (as they are) rapidly part ways, though echoes between the two continue: A statue of Buddha, the image of a looming dark circle, a monk who tries to treat his doctor, an unappreciated gift, the line "Man or woman?"
Weerasethakul has an amazing ability to imbue the most mundane of scenes with an inscrutable sense of mystery, in part because the camera’s gaze seems to lend everything weight. "Syndromes and a Century" is beautifully, self-consciously shot, with the camera at times drifting out to landscapes as if distracted, while conversations continue out of sight, or in another shot backing off at the direct gaze of a particular character. It implies a point of view that ultimately must belong to the director â€” the initial part of the film, at least, is a patchwork of reminiscences (including a flashback that consumes the story with no further signal, memory being just as vivid as the assumed present) that has the warm patina of nostalgia.
Screens October 7 at Alice Tully Hall.
+ "Syndromes and a Century" (NYFF)