Upstream Colour

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Upstream Colour

Metrodome Distribution / Shane Carruth / 2013 / United States

Running Time: 96 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Image: Colour

Language: English

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Since first premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2013 (followed by a US theatrical release self-distributed by the director himself), Shane Carruth’s elaborate science-fiction drama has proved yet another of those utterly divisive works that has continued to amaze, baffle and bore audiences in equal measure with its unique blend of perplexing content, breathtaking imagery and ambitious narrative structure.

Those familiar with Carruth’s debut feature – the 2004 Grand Jury Prize-winning (Sundance Film Festival) science fiction drama ‘Primer’, which centred on the accidental discovery of a means of time travel (notably completed on an extremely low budget of just $7,000) – will be aware of the complex and highly intelligent tone of his work, and with ‘Upstream Colour’ he only further exercises his unique directorial voice with another convoluted and idiosyncratic work evoking subtle shades of such cinematic and literary visionaries as Terrence Malick, Carlos Reygadas, David Lynch, David Cronenberg and Arthur C.Clarke.

“A woman is abducted from a bar and forced to ingest an unknown drug that renders her susceptible to persuasion. Sometime later, she awakens from her trance only to discover her life as she knew it has fallen apart. When she meets a man on a train, she realises that she might not be the only one to have experienced this ordeal.”

The film ultimately centres on two metaphysically-connected people whose lives and behaviors are affected and altered by a complex parasite (a live nematode, harvested from blue-tinged orchid leaves) that has a three-stage life cycle in which it passes from humans to pigs to orchids, subsequently infecting each system without their knowledge.

A sort of fusion between Malick (most notably ‘The Tree of Life’ (2011) and his 2012 work ‘To the Wonder’) and Reygadas (most notably 2012’s ‘Post Tenebras Lux’), Carruth’s ‘Thoreau-inspired’ film does unfortunately prove somewhat of an exercise in style over content, recreating the poetry and stunning visuals of the former pair, however without the complexity and emotional depth that flows prominently through their work.

‘Upstream Colour’ is clearly one of those films which will really benefit (and possibly reward) from a second or even third watch as there are a great multitude of various devices and strands which will not full announce themselves or materialise on a first viewing, requiring multiple viewings to effectively detach and scrutinise the numerous fibres of the plot.

Gracefully flowing through a variety of genres and thematic ideas with its impressively edited, elliptical narrative structure, unpredictably jumping from romance to emotional drama to thriller, underlined throughout with a prominent science fiction vein, the film does demand a considerable deal of effort and patience from the audience, and although there are rewards to be had, I find the film does not quite realise its full potential and develop ideas to maximum effect.

‘Upstream Colour’ is clearly one of those films which will really benefit (and possibly reward) from a second or even third watch as there are a great multitude of various devices and strands which will not full announce themselves or materialise on a first viewing, requiring multiple viewings to effectively detach and scrutinise the numerous fibres of the plot.

Performances from Amy Seimetz and Carruth himself in the central roles of Kris and Jeff are very strong and naturalistic, with Seimetz proving particularly impressive in some of the more challenging earlier scenes.

Carruth’s fluent, soft-focus (and often out of focus) cinematography does of course enhance the obscure and near-dreamlike quality of the film, and is cleverly utilised to symbolise the blurred line between reality and fantasy, however as a continuous device it does begin to grow a little tiresome and vexatious on the eyes.

Complex and divisive though ‘Upstream Colour’ may ultimately prove, Shane Carruth’s second feature delivers what are undoubtedly ninety of the most hypnotic, contemplative and visually compelling minutes of cinema you are likely to witness this year.

Nevertheless, a unique, intimate and incredibly poetic work administered with great ambition and style.