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July 29, 2013 | by  | in Arts Film |
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Upstream Color

Upstream Color is a sometimes disorientating journey through what filmmaking can achieve when it really sets its mind to it. Think The Tree of Life, but satisfying. It’s showing at the Festival and I really can’t recommend it enough.

The film’s plot is not easily explained, but it isn’t endlessly confusing either. It is at all times both an endearing love story and a horrific sci-fi excursion. It involves cute piglets, a disturbingly organic mind-control drug, and the work of Henry David Thoreau. Occasionally, the two main characters mix up each other’s memories, or have the same conversation in three different places at three different times. I guarantee it will make sense by the end, and you don’t need to spend the whole film watching out for clues or anything.

Upstream Color is relentlessly controlled. Director Shane Carruth (of Primer fame) also wrote, starred in, scored, shot, edited, and financed the film. It shows. Everything in this film adds perfectly to the overall whole. Every shot, every sound and every line feels completely considered and necessary. Collaboration is great, but there is certainly something to be said for the consistency of vision that Carruth manages to get across here.

This consistency is particularly noticeable in the cinematography. I mentioned The Tree of Life earlier for a reason—the rapidly cut yet controlled handheld shots certainly owe a lot to Malick. Carruth is never content with shooting a scene in the obvious way. Every shot is part and parcel with the mood of the character in shot, from the slidingly smooth car-ride of the drugged female lead to the waveringly panicky shots of her attempting to extract said drug with a kitchen knife. I’ve only seen this film on my television thus far; it will be stupendous on a proper screen.

It’s not all good. While it has a happy(ish) ending,  Upstream Color is perhaps a little dark for some, and the dialogue is interesting but a little too sparse to really impress. The film feels slightly claustrophobic at times, with Carruth’s singular vision not leaving much room to breathe, which you can take as a plus or minus. Still, it’s definitely a worthy successor to Primer, and undoubtedly a highlight of the Festival. If you have even a passing interest in film or narrative, book your ticket fast.


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