Archive for April, 2013


Upstream Color

April 30, 2013

directed by Shane Carruth, 2013


After wowing audiences at Sundance earlier in the year, Upstream Color represents everything we’d come to anticipate, another audacious experiment from visionary writer/director Shane Carruth. What frees the film from any commonality associated with the director’s 2004 low-budget debut Primer, is its all-encompassing narrative trajectory; a trait that Primer failed to exude due to its intended coldness and near impenetrable genre jargon. Heavily steeped in sci-fi trappings, Primer failed to make much of an impression on me, though it clearly marked Carruth as a filmmaker to watch in the future.

No one would have guessed that Carruth would have waited nine years before releasing Upstream Color, a remarkable and confident sophomore effort that pushes the boundaries of narrative cinema with its own sincere strangeness and assured grace. While its opening third is rather oblique and disorienting, there’s no denying the film’s honest and emotional accessibility — a warm core that signifies Carruth as a proper surveyor of human behavior. While casually shifting its elliptical axis between a con-story, a chance romance, and a bevy of pigs, Upstream Color strikes a surprising chord with its sneaky off-kilter relationship between Jeff (Carruth) and Kris (Amy Seimetz), a couple drawn together by an elaborate con involving parasites and yes… pigs. Throw in man’s crucial relationship to nature, mind control, and the collective effort to defeat trauma, and you’ve got some idea of what Upstream Color is striving for. Much of what Carruth is going for is the aural mystery behind our daily decisions. Rarely registering as self-important or novel, Upstream Color functions as pure cinema, a gateway into a familiar but new kind of narrative that is eager to unfold and function primarily on its own terms.


To say that Carruth possesses his own signature style is a bit of an understatement. The director excels where others often fail — mainly in regards to his summoning of emotion through sound and imagery. The cutting beauty of Upstream Color shifts between its central romance and its ingenious design. Employing both temporal elegance and abstract coherence, the cycle of life and the longing for connection that permeates the proceedings is one of associative and lyrical grandeur. The narrative’s fragmentary approach is something of a marvel as we’re left to reconfigure and process images out of context. If any of it feels incomplete it’s due to Carruth’s frenzied blueprint of lives under extreme duress. Some have argued that Jeff and Kris represent nothing more than window dressing for a couple coming to terms with their fractured past. Mostly, it’s a testament to Seimetz’s startling portrayal of a wounded soul seeking her own course correction; Carruth is fine as Jeff but isn’t asked to exude such raw vulnerability. While the brunt of Upstream Color is fairly easy to decipher, Carruth refuses to spoon-feed his audience. Most of the film’s 96 minute run-time is free of dialogue, and while each gorgeous frame carries an intended significance, the film’s plotty landscape was built for repeated viewings and further discoveries. The finite artistry that Carruth wields is predicated upon bursting emotional currents that initially seem out of reach due to the way the film begins. In its purest form, Upstream Color can be viewed as a balancing act of textures and surfaces — the crucial discourse between image and sound to depict a state of pureness within our complex and achingly human world.


My Month in Films: March ’13

April 1, 2013


Total films seen: 13 (1 rewatch)

Best first time viewings
1. The Lovers on the Bridge (Carax, ’91)
2. The Unspeakable Act (Sallitt, ’12)
3. Aurora (Puiu, ’10)
4. Mauvais Sang (Carax, ’86)
5. Crank: High Voltage (Neveldine/Taylor, ’09)
6. Crank (Neveldine/Taylor, ’06)
7. Laurence Anyways (Dolan, ’12)
8. The Straight Story (Lynch, ’99)
9. Olympus Has Fallen (Fuqua, ’13)

Worth mentioning
Beyond the Hills (Mungiu, ’12)

The Elephant Man (Lynch, ’80)
Lawless (Hillcoat, ’12)
Smashed (Ponsoldt, ’12)

Best rewatches
Spring Breakers (Korine, ’12)