The Best of the Decade: #1 02/28/2010
The first decade of our young century has come to a close. During that time the world around us has changed rapidly, and cinema has changed with it. Mainstream filmmaking continues to go down a dark path, moving ever closer to an event-style industry with no perception of "art". Meanwhile the cinema is ennobled all over the world by artists who reject or beat the studio system. As strong as ever, if you look in the right places, the art form thrives. For the next 10 days, I'll be counting down the 10 greatest films of the decade...
Syndromes and a Century
Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Occasionally, words fail to do justice to describe the magic of a film. Werner Herzog has said that, essentially, film criticism is moot, as words cannot adequately describe images. He is, in part, right, as criticism and praise, as words on a page, never truly capture cinema, as it exists, images flickering on a screen. If you can perfectly articulate a film with writing, than it must not be much of a film. The best movies reach a level beyond definition. For the medium to be empowered, a film must display the autonomy of cinema, and rest on the powers of images and sounds. Syndromes and a Century, the greatest film of the decade, is a testament to these values, and puts the overwhelming potential of cinema on full display.
Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (or “Joe”, the name he has adopted out of convenience) is the most impressive auteur to rise during the last 10 years. Beginning with his fascinating debut feature, Mysterious Object at Noon, released in 2000, he has quickly become one of the most acclaimed directors in the world. His filmography became even more impressive with the releases of Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady, which helped him secure this status. It is in Syndromes that Joe’s first decade in cinema culminates, with a further exploration of his dominant themes, and a transcendental quality at the level of Tarkovsky.
Joe never examines humanity out of context with nature, he sees us as bound to the sun and the trees. It is in our unnatural separation from nature where Joe’s obsessions lie. In Syndromes, the film is clearly dividable in two halves, the first and second having the same characters in almost identical situations, with dialogue repeated word-for-word. What is distinguishable between the halves is the presence of nature versus the absence of nature. In the first part of the film, which mostly takes place in a hospital, the sun is shining in nearly every frame. If the characters are inside, there are big open windows, and the forest isn’t far away. In the second part, it takes place in a more modern hospital, and the sun is hardly seen. Most of the time is spent in windowless corridors and rooms in a hospital wing. After the first part, the second gives us a desperate craving to go outside, to be in nature, where we belong.
Syndromes is a very open film, open to multiple interpretations, but in all honesty even if we don’t discuss the themes, it still merits the accolade of best of the decade. The experience of watching this film is unlike any other. Joe conveys a feeling of tranquility through his images, allowing the viewer peacefulness unprecedented in cinema. Syndromes is a rare film that aims to cause quiet smiles and utter delight. Its warmth is infectious and radiant, and unlike anything else. Perhaps it is in the removal of this warmth, that Joe creates such an affecting work, making us feel incomplete without nature’s presence.
Syndromes and a Century is proof alone that cinema is alive and well. No other film of the decade quite has me at the state of awe that this one does. The film is an accomplishment of nearly unbelievable heights. Joe gives the medium hope and exemplifies its limitless power to move, challenge, and transcend.