Syndromes and a Century
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s undeniably mysterious film is loosely based on his parents’ experience of working in a rural hospital in Thailand. As with the director’s other work (notably 2002’s Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady from 2004) he offers a film in two halves, held together by theme rather than narrative content.
Weerasethakul here explores the mysteries of love filtered through the vagaries of memory. Some critics have suggested the film is closer to music than storytelling, with echoes and refrains running throughout the film, as scenes in the second half resemble moments in the first. But, above all, it seems that Weerasethakul (who believes one of the great things about memories is that they can be handed down from one generation to another like family heirlooms) wants to capture brief and meaningful moments that don’t so much move us forward plotwise as backwards emotionally.
If plot logic is consistent with problem solving, then what has been called the director’s ‘rural surrealism’ happily sacrifices it to the mysteries of time and space removed from their usual narrative coordinates. As the French philosopher Gabriel Marcel once noted: ‘there are problems and there are mysteries’. Weerasethakul’s are some of the most metaphysical mysteries in modern cinema.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 30 Nov–Mon 3 Dec.