Syndromes and a Century

Syndromes and a Century ★★★★½

What makes Weerasethakul work for me, I think, is how concerned his films are with being instead of standing for. A lesser filmmaker would approach the dualistic structure as an opportunity to indulge in parallelism for the sake of parallelism, turning the movie into a setup-and-payoff machine instead of allowing it to operate in the moment. It would be hopelessly explicated and hollow in its insistence to satisfy.

Syndromes and a Century, thankfully, rejects this kind of empty formalism. The subdued second half feels less like a mirror image of the warm, nostalgic first one than an elegy for it; traces of its deadpan humor and understated romanticism linger, but witnessing the absence of their full breadth is devastating. While there are a lot of clear thematic touchstones – growing up, reincarnation, the spread of urbanism – I think the whole is comfortable in its multiplicity and better for it, capable of being both endlessly charming and the inexplicably sad.

It's good. Despite some standout shots and sequences, Syndromes does feel like a "greatest hits" compilation in the context of Weerasethakul's larger body of work, where I think he has poked most of what he addresses here in slightly more compelling ways. Still, a damn good 105 minutes of your life.

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