In honor and recognition of today’s opening of Shane Carruth‘s Upstream Color, here’s (a) a re-posting of last January’s Sundance Film Festival review and (b) a portion of Manohla Dargis‘s N.Y. Times review, which is a bit more descriptive and generally more of a loopy-mad-cow assessment than mine.
“Shane Carruth‘s Upstream Color is the only Sundance film I’ve seen so far that totally jettisons narrative in favor of an impressionist, oddly spooky, catch-as-catch-can paint-splatter whatever experience. It’s very cool and commanding and climatorial. I became an instant fan. You’re free to piece together all the fragments and good luck with that, but Upstream Color has something to do with 21st Century anxiety, malevolent micro-manipulation, love, bodily invasions, Ridley Scott-like worms and definitely pigs. Lots and lots of little pigs.
“You don’t want to hear what I think it all amounts to. Whatever I might write would just get in the way or feel like a mosquito. It’s entirely between you and Upstream Color.
“Director-writer-producer Carruth is self-distributing Upstream Color on April 5th. HE readers are advised to grapple with the experience. All serious cineastes, I mean. I honestly don’t think you’ll be able to call yourself a man if you don’t.
“It’s certainly worth catching for Amy Seimetz‘s mesmerizing lead performance. And Carruth’s costarring one, come to think. They play lovers (named Chris and Jeff) who may have been invaded/afflicted by the same quietly malevolent, William S. Burroughs-ian bad guys, and Carruth is cool — a fascinating actor in that he doesn’t seem to “act” much but is indisputably interesting. His intense eyes especially.
“But Semetz (an indie actress-director who strongly resembles early Juliette Binoche) is the shit. She’s the primary victim, the person who struggles with weird micro-aggression and malevolence that makes no real “sense,” who tries to hold on, who bears the burden and somehow muddles through. Seimetz has been around for years, but this is the first time I’ve sat up and said ‘wow.'”
Portion of Dargis review: “For all of Mr. Carruth’s cosmic reaching and despite the jigsaw montage, Upstream Color isn’t an arduous head-scratcher if you don’t worry about what it means and just go with the trippy flow. (Mr. Carruth helped cut and shoot the movie, and wrote its mood-setting score.)
“It is, instead, a sometimes seductive, sometimes tiresome melange of ideas that are by turns obvious, hermetic, touching and sweetly dopey. Much of it involves an emotionally fraught romance that Amy Seimetz’s Kris strikes up with Mr. Carruth’s Jeff, a relationship that dovetails with a freaky tale of dead pigs, blue orchids, those mind-altering worms and another mystery man, Sampler (Andrew Sensenig), whose mailbox bears the words ‘Quinoa Valley.’
“You may laugh, but if that’s an intentional joke, Mr. Carruth isn’t saying. He’s a man of few words and less exposition, and Upstream Color doesn’t come across as satirical even if it edges close to absurdity. Sampler is similarly taciturn and is mostly seen walking about recording sounds, like the papery rustle of dry leaves and the happy gurgle of streams. He also tends to his swine and conducts a shivery, creepy deworming procedure with Kris and a pig.
“At times, he walks among people as undetected as the soulful angels in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire. In one scene, he drifts among his adorable herd of little porkers Christ-like, the fingers of one hand trailing through the air as the camera closely follows, a shot and a gesture that strongly evoke Mr. Malick’s work.
Mr. Malick’s imprint on Mr. Carruth, however deliberate, runs deep. It’s evident in Mr. Carruth’s emphasis on the natural world; his use of ‘Walden’; the hushed voices and many images, including some time-lapse photography of a dead pig decaying underwater, which registers as the catastrophic inverse of the time-lapse sequence of a seed sprouting underground in Days of Heaven. (Mr. Carruth’s movie at times feels like days of hell.)
“Mr. Malick’s influence also extends to shots of Kris and Jeff walking, whispering and touching that are not moored in a specific time but could be from the past, present or future. In these Malick Moments, time becomes as circular as the rising and setting of the sun. ‘Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in,’ Thoreau wrote in ‘Walden.'”