The state of things: 10 films in 74 hours. If it sounds like that should make me a little bit twitchy, it does.

There will be those who deride Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Sang sattawat [Syndromes and a Century] as pretentious and overly-artsy. Luckily, I am also pretentious and overly-artsy, and therefore I adored it.

Weerasethakul's parents were both doctors, and this film is his tribute to them. It is accordingly divided into a feminine and a masculine half: the first part, for his mother, is the story of a rural medical outpost; the second, for his father, is set in a gleaming urban hospital.

This explains where the film comes from, but not necessarily where it goes. Syndromes and a Century tells no story as such, but rather collects a series of incidents. It opens with a strange job interview, as a new doctor is asked whether he prefers circles, triangles or squares, what DDT stands for, and if he likes to draw. A janitor confesses his love to a doctor, who responds by recalling her flirtation with an orchid farmer. An aged monk tries to wheedle medicine, and his aide later chats with a dentist as he gets his teeth cleaned for the first time ever. The dentist would rather be a pop singer, and manages to secure a gig at the local temple's annual festival.

Individually, these scenes work as an intriguing study of an isolated community. Weerasethakul shoots his scenes in languid, uncut takes, rarely moving the camera and letting sound run on as characters walk in and out of frame (the most striking example occurs during the opening credits, where it is implied that the actors forgot they were being recorded as they walk off set). There are elements of everything from Altman to Antonioni to Ozu throughout, and the rhythm of the film is laid-back and sleepy, but never boring. Nothing happens, because in life that is usually the case: people wander around, have conversations, dream about the life they don't have.

The film becomes a flat-out masterpiece the second time we see the interview.

You see, it's not that there are two stories in the two locations; there is only one story, told in two very different ways. Where the rural setting was friendly and laid-back, the urban story is crisp, efficient and professional. Take the interview: when asked what DDT stands for, the new hire initially hems and haws and jokes before giving up and guessing "Destroy Dirty Things." The second time we see him (played by the same actor, as are all of the characters), he is briefly confused, but leaps to the same joke without so much hesitation. The dentist no longer befriends the monk during the cleaning, but simply chats because it is his bedside manner.

It's hard for an American to draw any broad conclusions about Weerasethakul's films because so few of them have been distributed in this country (ironically, he studied film at the School of the Chicago Art Institute), but what little I've seen leads me to suppose this obsession with dualism is a signficant part of his work. The film is hardly as simple as "here people are nice & here they are cold"; it is far too subtle for that. Instead, the second half forms a mirror image of the first, the same thing only different, if you will. And "mirror image" is literal: in some scenes the positions of characters are switched in the frame, some are shot at a 180° reversal from their first incarnation. Returning at last to his parents, this film is primarily about the opposition of male and female, but also the way in which male and female are versions of the same, and the connection of the two into a unified whole.

10/10

NB: This film was shot as part of Vienna's 250-year Mozart celebration. What it has to do with Vienna or Mozart is entirely unknown to me.