In Syndromes and a Century, Apichatpong Weerasethakul revisits the bifurcated structure of his earlier feature films, Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady as well as the fragmented, dissociative visual and aural images of his experimental short, The Relentless Fury of the Pounding Waves to create a languid, lyrical, organic, and contemplative exposition on the malleability and impermanence of a person’s sense of place, a reality defined by a conflation of past and present, located both in the concreteness of geography and the ephemerality of memory. A chronicle of the parallel lives and quotidian encounters of a pair of physicians (presumably based on the filmmaker’s parents) as well as an enterprising dentist named Dr. Ple (Arkanae Cherkam) who moonlights as a traditional ballad singer – ambiguously unfolding in either contemporaneity or temporal ellipsis – a female country doctor named Dr. Toey (Nantarat Sawaddikul) and a male city doctor and recently discharged military veteran named Dr. Nohng (Jaruchai Iamaram), the film is also an illustration of the recursiveness and atemporality of human behavior that not only reflects the intrinsic (and intuitive) repetition in the performance of mundane rituals, but also underscores the interconnectedness of a collective consciousness enabled by the accretive cycle of spiritual reincarnation: the performance of a staff psychological evaluation and physical examination prior to assignment to a hospital ward, the interactive complications of diagnosing and treating insular (and old-fashioned) monks, the integration of traditional and modern medicine in patient treatment, the intoxication of new love, the ache of longing, the inevitability of separation. Presented through a series of allusive, often complementary images – a visual theme that is figuratively reinforced in the transfixing image of the occluding eclipse that is subsequently repeated in the industrial image of smoke suction through the flue of a hospital exhaust system undergoing renovation, as well as literally through the film’s penultimate sequences shot from the basement of a hospital where prosthetic limbs are fabricated and stored (the physical complementation of a disabled patient) – the film is an evocative and impressionistic meditation on the persistence – and indefinable elusiveness – of human memory.
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