Syndromes and a Century
Arnika Fuhrmann is a professor in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at Cornell University and the author of Ghostly Desires: Queer Sexuality and Vernacular Buddhism in Contemporary Thai Cinema.
Nantarat Sawaddikul, Jaruchai Iamaram, Sophon Pukanok, Jenjira Pongpas,
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s radiant follow-up to Tropical Malady opens with sunlight shining through branches swaying in the summer breeze, a fitting beginning for a film of becalmed wistfulness and beauty whose Thai title translates as “Light of the Century.” Dedicated to Weerasethakul’s doctor parents, and loosely based on their recollections, Syndromes and a Century begins in a rural hospital that basks in a light so radiant it finds all the doctors in love. Here dentists serenade their crushes with flossing-related karaoke, and even job interviews sound romantic. Later, in an antiseptic urban hospital bathed in fluorescence (the light of the new century), the same actors, playing similar characters, reevoke their scenes, with loves and desires repeated like syndromes. Concerned with how memory (and, by extension, cinema) works to recall and rephrase stories and emotions, Syndromes and a Century is blissfully impervious to narrative concerns. But the film, commissioned for the Mozart-inspired New Crowned Hope Festival, is as pleasurably seductive as an afternoon spent under those swaying trees.