Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Sundance London 2013: Upstream Colour Review

Director/Writer: Shane Carruth

Starring: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins

Synopsis: Kris (Seimetz) is kidnapped one night, drugged and forced into a life cycle of a microscopic presence. Along her tough and confusing journey she finds a kindred spirit also caught up in a wider sense of existence. The two support each other to piece together the fragments of their confused life.

If the above synopsis doesn’t inform you already, Upstream Colour is a very tough film to describe. With some viewers this will be its greatest facets, and viewed in the completely opposite way by others.

Sitting down for a Shane Carruth movie is the equivalent of Ergodic literature – a very demanding exercise in entertainment and perception. There are many illogical aspects to his work, yet it’s his ability to meticulous craft deep logic that he’s praised for. Following the story appears to be easy for the first 30 minute of Upstream Colour – a woman kidnapped, drugged and then victim to the insertion of a worm into her body. This worm has the ability to alter her entire biology, and is a fascinating concept for a story. It’s the science-fiction of Richard Matheson, with a subject that covers for more than one idea (in this case: drug use, subsistence and even the theory of everything). As Kris, the kidnapped woman, is freed of the worm of a series of bizarre days under its spell she finds she is now lost in what was her reality. This is where the narrative veers off to the cryptic, then convoluted further by the introduction of Jeff (Carruth) who appears to have been through the same trauma.

If your attention slips ever so briefly during the film you will lose some intrinsic piece of understanding. Every shot, sound and symbol has been carefully envisioned by Carruth and this is a wondrous achievement. He is using the cinematic form in every capacity and largely succeeding. Some shots that illustrate the microscopic essence of life are stunning – developing this overarching theme boldly and constructively. There are then interconnected images and sounds that are edited together with finesse; all exemplary in their edifice.

Going to the film with absolutely no idea of the story could lead to frustration as there are few clues to piece it all together in one. Give the film a few days to digest, watch the trailer, and take another stab at it and you should expect a more satisfying experience. Take the Walden; or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau that is referenced continually – read the book, or delve into its ideals and you will discover more about Carruth’s reason for it (one stab in the dark: life at its most basic and the connection of living organisms to one another).

Carruth is in the director’s chair, at the writer’s desk, in front of the camera, composing the music, editing the scenes, and filming the remarkable cinematography – he is already an auteur, completely in control of his project, and Upstream Colour is his crowning glory. Albeit, this film is tough and often irritating with its audacious enigma, but it is refreshingly smart, able to generate thought and discussion.

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms

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