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Syndromes and a Century

I would guess that 95% of the average movie audience would find “Syndromes and a Century” insufferably boring. A good 65% would fall asleep in the middle of it. It has no plot, no narrative structure, only the barest hint of characters. The direction makes “slow” seem like too fast a word to use. It may or may not have a point. If 95% of movies are novels (A good 85% are pulp novels,) “Syndromes and a Century” is a book of poems. And you know how well those sell.

They’re vaguely related poems; most books of poems are related in some way. Here, the uniting thread is a pair of hospitals, one in the country, the other in the city. The first half of the movie takes place in the country, and involves, primarily, a series of subtle courting rituals. A female doctor is taken with a man who comes to buy an orchid that has grown in the tree on the hospital grounds. There is instant chemistry between them. Meanwhile, another man begs her to marry him. And in another wing of the hospital, a dentist sings folk songs to his patient, then asks him if he is his brother, reincarnated.


Then the movie repeats, but this time in the city. One sequence is repeated, almost verbatim, just so we know what’s going on. Then the courting rituals repeat, but are different, more aggressive, more disturbed, apparently because of the setting. A doctor flirts with a boy suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. A woman suggests a man transfer with her to a new, more modern city.

I’ve never seen any other film made in Thailand, so it is intriguing and somewhat refreshing to discover this point of view. “Syndromes and a Century” is similar to a few other films coming out of the East; namely, those of Hsiao-hsien Hou and the Taiwanese New Wave movement. There’s a whole world of movies out there that most American moviegoers haven’t discovered yet.

The point might be how urbanization has changed social interactions, but then again, it might not. These barely related vignettes don’t really need to add up to any final point; most(not all) of them are engaging on their own. “Syndromes and a Century” is poetic, but maybe it’s more like a book of short stories. And you know how well those sell.


  • if you’re the kind of person who buys poetry and short story collections.
  • if you’re interested in a quiet, thoughtful, delicately pretty film.
  • if most movie romances feel overdone and heavy to you.
  • if you enjoyed “Three Times” or “Cafe Lumiere.”

Not Recommended

  • if you’re feeling sleepy already.
  • if you’d like more plot than atmosphere.
  • if you think “they kiss = they sleep together and probably get married in the end” is the right movie formula when it comes to romance.
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