A man (Shane Carruth) and a woman (Amy Semietz) are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives. (Distributor's synopsis.)
Review by Louise Keller:
The ambiguous elements that filmmaker Shane Carruth delivers in this challenging arthouse film will engage its audience or repel it. Its music (or soundscape), vital to its essence, is composed by Carruth, who has also written, edited, shot, produced and stars in the film, carrying the mainstay of its load. Like the narrative, the music is complex and often jarring, with discordant sounds that lack tunefulness. The dialogue is sparse and much of the imagery and action is open to interpretation. I was intrigued, frustrated, repulsed, bewildered and ultimately bored.
The set up is unfathomable, centering around a young girl named Kris (Amy Seimetz) who is drugged and infected by an organism. It all starts with the earth in which coloured orchids are potted and the worms that inhabit its soil. There are scenes at a pig farm, sounds that are collected like stamps to be collated into an album with bricks falling, stone on metal - all recorded onto vinyl. The scene in which Kris lies on a bed hooked up intravenously to a baby piglet is all at once shocking and bizarre. Is she the host for a new breed of organism and what is the purpose of it all? This and many other questions play on our mind throughout.
Carruth plays Jeff, another lost soul whose life is as almost as confused as that of Kris. It is their mutual searching and confusion of the unknown that draws them together. This is a film that relies on the experience it delivers rather than the detail of the narrative. I was hoping for a greater understanding of what Carruth was trying to say, but it seems that Carruth is simply laying out provocative thoughts which are left for his audience to interpret. While there are many memorable moments, in the end the vague nature of the exposition and lack of resolution frustrated me. Black and white this is not.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Shane Carruth has no-one to thank were he to make an award acceptance speech, since he wrote, produced, directed, shot, edited, scored and stars in Upstream Colour. Auteur in extremis, perhaps. But he has no-one to blame for the film's flaws, either. It's a film that audiences will either loath or admire; I doubt it can be loved, too austere and distant, too dissonant, too incoherent in fact.
You could argue that it's a surreal film, but surrealism isn't an editing exercise in juxtaposing images and flipping scenes from one context to another. Besides, I like my surrealism with visual fascination and a sense of mischief - as practiced by David Lynch, say. But Carruth ignites not my curiosity but my irritation and reminds me of the Dylan Thomas secret. That's where Thomas reveals his secret to a young reporter who asks him what it is: 'Confound the buggers,' he is reported to have replied. The less accessible, the more artistic, perhaps...
As we are thrown from one meaningless scene to a horror sequence and then to an almost naturalistic conversation between the leading man and woman, we are on a quest to make some sense of it, but Carruth insists on cinematic sleight of hand, challenging - or mocking - us. It's as if he has invented a new language of cinema but hasn't provided us with the dictionary.
All I want to say about the elements is that they are unsettling, bordering on horror, with maggots and piglets and experimental procedures that are suggestive but inconclusive. Of course, Carruth might say I just don't get the film - and he'd be right.
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UPSTREAM COLOR (M)
CAST: Amy Semietz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins, Kathy Carruth, Meredith Burke, Andreon Watson, Ashton Miramontes
PRODUCER: Shane Carruth, Casey Gooden, Ben LeClair
DIRECTOR: Shane Carruth
SCRIPT: Shane Carruth
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Shane Carruth
EDITOR: Shane Carruth, David Lowery
MUSIC: Shane Carruth
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Thomas Walker
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 26, 2013