16 November 2007

Syndromes and a Century

Syndromes and a Century

Syndromes and a Century (แสงศตวรรษ), the latest film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, was screened tonight at Alliance Française in Bangkok. (It will also be shown tomorrow.) The director was present to introduce the film and answer questions afterwards. It was, sadly, shown on DVD instead of 35mm, due to ‘technical difficulties’, just like the Georges Méliès event two weeks ago.

These screenings offer a very rare chance to see the film in Thailand, as it is effectively banned from distribution in this country. When it was originally submitted to the censors at the Ministry of Culture, they insisted that four (totally innocuous) scenes be removed; rather than mutilate his work, Apichatpong instead decided not to release it here at all, forming the Free Thai Cinema Movement to campaign against state censorship.

The film begins in a rural clinic, with a female consultant interviewing a male army doctor. The doctor falls in love with her, though she tells him that she is keen on someone else, a lotus seller seen in an extended flashback. One of her patients, an (unsympathetic) elderly monk, recounts a dream in which he is attacked by chickens. At the same clinic, a singing dentist strikes up a friendship with one of his patients, a young monk who dreams of being a DJ.

Then, at the halfway point, the film begins again: the consultant interviews the army doctor, the old monk recounts his dream, and the dentist treats the young monk. This time, the location has shifted to a city hospital, and, rather than falling for the consultant, the army doctor has a beautiful girlfriend instead.

Like Apichatpong’s mystical Tropical Malady (สัตว์ประหลาด), Syndromes and a Century is a film of two distinct halves, a beautiful and tranquil enigma. It’s also semi-autobiographical, as the director’s parents also met each other at a hospital.