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SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY (Sang sattawat)(director/writer: Apichatpong Weerasethakul; cinematographer: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom; editor: Lee Chatametikool; music: Kantee Anantagant; cast: Nantarat Sawaddikul (Dr. Toey), Jaruchai Iamaram (Dr. Nohng), Nu Nimsomboon (Toa), Sophon Pukanok (Noom), Jenjira Pongpas (Pa Jane), Arkanae Cherkam (Dentist Ple), Wanna Wattanajinda (Dr. Wan), Putthithorn Kammak (Off), Sakda Kaewbuadee (Monk); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Charles de Meaux/Apichatpong Weerasethakul; Strand Releasing Home Video; 2006-Thailand-in Thai with English subtitles)
“The pic has a Buddhist aura surrounding it, leaving a warm and happy feeling with the viewer.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The 37-year-old experimental filmmaker from Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul (“Tropical Malady”/ “Blissfully Yours”), has called this most unusual and original film “an experiment in re-creation of my parents’ lives before I was born.” It’s a puzzling non-narrative film that defies understanding, as it takes ordinary events and makes them seem strange and hypnotically fascinating in a dreamlike way. The pic has a Buddhist aura surrounding it, leaving a warm and happy feeling with the viewer. It’s a pic that calls for many viewings to fully explore its lucid and carefully thought-out visions, that are probably too much to fully take in with only one sitting.It was commissioned as part of Vienna’s New Crowned Hope Festival, which celebrated Mozart’s 250th birthday.

The first half takes place at a small rural hospital (set in the period of the filmmaker’s childhood), while the second half takes place at a large and more modern urban hospital (set in the filmmaker’s present state).

It opens with young Army medic Dr Nohng (Jaruchai Iamaram) being interviewed in a rural clinic by a business-like Dr. Toey (Nantarat Sawaddikul), a young woman doctor giving him a personality test for a job. He’s asked if he prefers squares, triangles or circles, and responds he prefers circles because he likes things to be clear. Dr. Toey is diverted by the romantic moves of a young man, Toa (Nu Nimsomboon), she has a luncheon date with who out of the blue proposes marriage, and whom she gently turns down by telling a story about her former romance with a young businessman orchid expert, Noom (Sophon Pukanok), who has found on the hospital grounds a rare orchid and wishes to purchase it to cultivate it for commercial purposes. Dr. Toey also meets with a talkative elderly monk who is worried he has bad karma because he eats a lot of chicken and in his dreams wishes to break the legs of the chickens. The harried Dr. Toey interrupts the visit to run outside and ask a male hospital worker to return the money she loaned him and is upset when he doesn’t. When she returns to her patient, the monk senses some unease and offers her a herbal potion to ease her discomfort by regulating her menstrual cycle and then tries unsuccessfully to get from her prescriptions for his fellow monks. In the same clinic, we follow the conversation between a dentist, Dr. Ple (Arkanae Cherkam), and one of his patients, a Buddhist monk (Sakda Kaewbuadee) who confesses that he once wanted to be a D.J. but turned down the chance even when his dream to be a D. J. became a reality. The dentist then confesses he wanted to be a singer of Thai country songs, and tells the monk he thinks he’s his reincarnated brother who died eight years ago–except the monk says in his previous incarnation he was a horse, which doesn’t stop the dentist from believing.

The film’s second half follows Dr. Nohng through his workday routine at the modern hospital where he meets in a basement conference room with Dr. Wan (Wanna Wattanajinda), who decries she’s not a boozer as she pulls a bottle of liquor from a prosthetic leg claiming she needs something to calm her nerves for her upcoming public television presentation. Another doctor brings in his young introverted patient (Putthithorn Kammak) suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning and Wan unsuccessfully attempts a chakra healing technique on him, which only makes the patient angry and he goes out to the corridor to swat a tennis ball. At Dr. Nohng’s romantic hallway meeting with his pretty business executive girlfriend, after they sensually kiss, she asks him to transfer to the up and coming industrial city of Chonburi where her company is moving next year and shows him photos of urban construction. He responds by showing off his erection, but not committing himself to getting a transfer.

It’s a delightfully entertaining magical film that touches on such varied subjects as raising the boundaries of memory, reincarnation, the effects of bureaucracy, finding love, public exercise programs, traditional versus modern medicine, rural versus urban life and various other intriguing conversational items that are broached in such a casual way with a subtle droll humor.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”