Corrierino Consensus Project: Syndromes and a Century

10 01 2013

The users of The Corrierino forums have recently compiled a consensus list of the best films ever made. Once the votes were tallied, calls for write-ups began and I signed up to pen a few. I will post my entries here as they’re revealed in the relevant thread

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This remains Weerasethakul’s greatest film, to my eyes. Commissioned to celebrate the 250th Anniversary of Mozart’s birth, and supposedly telling the story of Weerasethakul’s parents, Syndromes and a Century has precious little to do with Mozart, and its connection to the filmmaker’s mother and father is either tenuous or completely irrelevant. What we find, instead, and despite what some plot synopses might say, is the same plot told twice, once in a rural hospital and again in a modern, urbanized, unnervingly sterile hospital. Thing is, the plot cannot evolve likewise in these vastly different environments. Although the second half begins much like the film started, the new setting prevents certain developments from taking place, and, rapidly, the narrative deviates drastically from what preceded it. A dentist befriends a monk in the first half, but cannot in the second, because modern dental paraphernalia cancels any opportunity for conversation. A female doctor speaks to a shy, platonic admirer in the first half, but they don’t even cross each other in the mazy hospital hallways of the second.

What results is a wonderful experiment in storytelling, and an even better mood piece. Since the deviations in plot from first to second half are often triggered by environmental factors, Syndromes turns into a movie about natural and human-made surroundings, and how these affect our daily lives. Weerasethakul is a mesmeric image-maker, bestowing organic and inorganic matter with ineffable spirits. A Letter to Uncle Boonmee has a striking, dusky shot of swaying foliage, which is among the most mysterious, stirring portraits of magical nature ever filmed; Tropical Malady is equally adept in the cluttered flatness of supermarket products, as it is in the shadowy myths of the forest. Syndromes, then, plays on Weerasethakul’s strengths, being wholly about environments, about the whispered power behind trees, walls, windows, and cavernous ventilation tubes, sucking us into the darkness.

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