Best of the Decade #5

by robbiefreeling
December 28, 2009 9:50 AM
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The English translation of Syndromes and a Century’s Thai title, Sang sattawat, which means “light of the century,” sounds atypically grandiose for humble filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul. It’s a reference perhaps to the illuminating presence of cinema, which corresponds roughly to the beginning and end of the 20th century, or maybe the medium’s digital successors that cast their own kind of light onto an uncertain 21st. If anyone should carry this torch, there’s none better than Weerasethakul, who, at 39, has already crafted a body of films that easily rank among the most important of recent years, if not decades, and whose own hybridities and seeming contradictions—a Thai sensibility mixed with American film school, a love of syrupy pop ballads combined with an appreciation for experimental film masters like Andy Warhol and Bruce Baillie, and the cache of an international art phenom who returns time and again to his country boy roots—speak to the ever-shifting conditions of a globalized, but in no way homogenized, world. The film’s English title, meanwhile, suggests something different, something more elusive. The word “syndromes” registers as indirect and circular, the wafting effects of a malady rather than its core affliction. In this way Syndromes looks around more than it looks directly at; set in hospitals, the film contains multiple scenes of diagnosis and treatment, with doctors and patients alike tending to each other’s troubles and aches, and trying everything from chakra channeling to talking cures to ease their collective burdens. Syndromes of and for a century: ailments, perhaps, but also a form of cinematic light that brightens a shared condition, a dimming past we leave behind, and a faint glimmer of what lies ahead. Read Genevieve Yue on Syndromes and a Century.

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