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Syndromes and a Century

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 9, 2006 7:00PM

0806_syndromes_01.jpgThis weekend we had the chance to check out a new film from Thailand that’s screening as part of the Chicago International Film Festival, Syndromes and a Century directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. It’s been garnering an awful lot of attention (Mr. Weerasethakul’s film Tropical Malady won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2004), and luckily we find ourselves in agreement that this is indeed a special film.

It’s a languid, sensual wonder as refreshing as a long drink of ice-cold spring water. The film’s boldest move is its decision to completely do away with an overarching narrative; instead we get several loosely interlocking vignettes, most of which revolve around a hospital and its staff. Reincarnation is a major theme, and several scenes are repeated with variations in dialogue and setting. The director also favors long takes and a gliding camera. As a result it’s one of those movies where you notice all the little details that you’d miss in a more frenetic setting: the play of light on vegetation, hairstyles, even the brushstrokes visible on a painted wall of the hospital.

There are lots of gently humorous moments: a young Buddhist monk wistfully remembers wanting to be a DJ, a doctor awkwardly attempts to woo a colleague, and a dentist whose hobby is singing Thai country and western (“Most of my songs are about teeth and gums,” he admits). Yet there are also uneasy moments, charged with a vague menace that wouldn’t feel out of place in a David Lynch movie, including a prosthetic leg with a bottle of liquor hidden inside, and a smoke machine that works in reverse.

The lack of a traditional “story” is bound to disorient a lot of viewers. But if you abandon expectations and just let it carry you along, the film will definitely reward you -- and won’t your date be impressed! A tightly controlled visual scheme and intricate sound design make it a must-see on the big screen. It just won’t have the same impact on DVD; we don’t care how great your home theater setup is. If you’re open to something unique, get your tickets now; there’s only one screening left!

Syndromes and a Century screens at the Landmark Century this Friday at 4:30. Ticket information is on the festival's website.