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It's important to point out that the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul are clearly an acquired taste. This Thai director makes movies that bear only a passing resemblance to the kind of narrative-laced dramas with which audiences in the West are most comfortable and familiar. His works reflect a Buddhist philosophy of deep inner reflection and unhurried contemplation of the moment - and, thus, they demand patience and an open mind from the viewer. But those willing to sample the strange exotic brew that is "Syndromes and a Century" (the title itself is enigmatic) will find ample rewards in the consumption.
There's little point in trying to explain what "Syndromes and a Century" is "about," since it serves no purpose to think of a Weerasethakul film in such terms. As a largely impressionistic work, the movie is more concerned with mood, feeling and setting than it is with conventional drama. Watching a Weerasethakul film is a bit like trying to solve a puzzle for which very few clues are provided. The "story," such as it is, involves two doctors - a woman working in a rural clinic and a man working in a big-city hospital - and their various encounters with patients, lovers and colleagues. We're told that the story was inspired by the romance of Weerasethakul's parents, though the obscurity of its presentation renders that explanation virtually meaningless. Often, an earlier scene is enacted a second time, though in an entirely different setting and from an opposing angle. This leads to even more confusion on the part of the viewer.
But it is style, rather than plot, that is of primary importance here. "Syndromes and a Century" is comprised almost entirely of beautifully composed and rigorously sustained medium and long shots, with few close-ups, very little camera movement and only minimal editing within scenes. Thus, even though we may not always understand fully what is going on, we are lulled into the movie by the seductive, hypnotic rhythms and style of the film-making.
"Syndromes and a Century" is not as compelling as Weerasethakul's previous film, the lushly transcendent and utterly spellbinding "Tropical Malady," but it should definitely appeal to anyone with a taste for the enigmatic, the exotic and the abstract.
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