Now this, this is more what I was expecting a more evolved Bunuel film to be like, despite this not even being a Bunuel film. The Book’s entry for The Asthenic Syndrome calls it a great film, but a “hard one to take… because it breaks so many rules about what films are supposed to be like.” Plus, the Wikipedia article had no plot summary, and the links to the actors and crew were all red save for a single actor and the director, Kira Muratova. With all this non-information, and with the Book’s entry giving me the only impression of the film I had, it would be easy to say I stepped into The Asthenic Syndrome with some… reservations. Sure enough, not even 15 minutes into this one, I was already lost. I don’t know if I could go so far as to call this surrealist cinema, but it is certainly not realist; that’s for sure. Hell, I don’t even know what to call this; my cognitive faculties escape me in trying to describe the experience of The Asthenic Syndrome. But alas, I must still try.
I guess I could summarize my experience with The Asthenic Syndrome in one word: befuddlement. I had no idea what this was about, or even what it was trying to do. I caught snippets of a plotline, so I know it was in there somewhere, but even these were constantly being drowned out by the film’s incessant need to be as off-the-wall as possible. It really seemed like the filmmakers came up with random ideas of random film elements that randomly interact with each other, only on the loosest of threads, and then smashed these ideas together, with no glue or adhesive, and called it a complete product. That’s The Asthenic Syndrome in a nutshell. It certainly didn’t help any that the technicals were so oddball; the film starts off in a sorta-black-and-white, almost grayish sepia tone (the Book calls it black-and-white, when it was more like an incomplete desaturation), and then jumps into color when the narrative decides it doesn’t like the current story and just says, “Aw, fuck it; NEW STORY”, pretending the last 40 minutes have been a film-within-a-film. Frankly, I was amazed that I was even able to ferret out that there was a story, or rather two stories; as for what they are, for once, I’m honestly unsure of whether or not I should tell you – most of the experience of The Asthenic Syndrome, for me, was trying to figure out what was going on, and I wouldn’t want to deprive you of basically the only reason to watch this one.
It was about an hour into this one that I finally posited what this film was possibly about. The central characters of both parts of the film are essentially aimless, oblivious to the world around them (no matter what may be happening, and in this film, a lot of anything is happening), and are allegories for the mental state of modern society as a whole; disconnected, and aloof. Even with this explanation, though, there are still a number of shots and scenes that seem to serve no purpose, or only to reinforce the central tenet, which as far as I was able to I reasoned for myself not even halfway through, so the rest of the film became a tiring mountain of existential data toward whether or not I was right. I still don’t know if I am, or aren’t; maybe my brain was just making stuff up to fill in the gaps this film was leaving in my coherent mind, but if it allows me to have a somewhat complete, or even incomplete, frame of mind regarding The Asthenic Syndrome, then I’ll take it, and move on. I have a good feeling a lot of discussion follows in the wake of a screening of this film, and perhaps not all of it is necessarily productive, but if a film like this sticks itself in your head, and prompts a good deal of thinking about it once it’s over, then I guess it has succeeded in its goal. It’s just a matter of deciding whether it was worth the effort.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10