April 13, 2013
A movie on which to float, rather than park your easily expressed opinions, "Upstream Color" is a river conveying a kind of love story involving two lost souls. Comparisons to Terrence Malick and "The Tree of Life," among other Malicks, have abounded ever since director-writer-co-star Shane Carruth's elliptical venture premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
Certainly the abundance of nonverbal footage, Carruth's attention to faces and shots of nature, and his willingness to evoke musical forms as much as cinematic ones invite those comparisons. But "Upstream Color," Carruth's follow-up to "Primer" (2004), is the work of a developing filmmaker all his own. I resist his technique — it's pretty to the point of distraction — but I'm still sorting through the reasons why, along with the reasons his film demands attention nonetheless.
The "normal" description of its narrative events begins with Kris, played by Amy Seimetz, who is robbed and drugged at the outset. Simple enough. But there's something nasty going on at the microscopic level: A mind-control experiment with tiny worms, injected into the human body, leaves Kris without a fixed identity. The microbe makes its way through "nematodes, plant life, livestock, and back again," as the Sundance catalog put it.
Carruth is Jeff, Kris' partner in befuddlement and mutual attraction. Other figures drift in and out of the picture, among them a sound "sampler" (Andrew Sensenig) gathering bits of ambient sound in the vicinity of a pig farm. Even as I write this, I'm aware of making the various building blocks used in "Upstream Color" sound impossibly silly and arch. Carruth's visual approach, saved from abstraction by his own rapid, forward-leaping editing, is extremely assured. Seimetz is a fine and expressively haunted actress. I look forward to the enigmas in Carruth's next picture.
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1:36
Opens: Friday at the Music Box Theatre
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