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Upstream Colour

April 4, 2014

Upstream Colour (2013)
Director: Shane Carruth
Actors: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Selsenig

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Synopsis: Kris (Amy Seimetz) is drugged with a sinister parasite which renders her totally submissive to a thief who strips her of all her financial assets. A sampler (Andrew Selsenig) transfers the parasite from Kris to a pig he is farming, and when Kris ‘wakes up’ she loses her job, and has to work with fellow victim Jeff (Shane Carruth) to try and piece the puzzle of their mutual ‘violation’…

Review: Shane Carruth’s staggering, rhapsodic follow-up to his more measured and clinical debut Primer, is totally up my street – complete vindication for my maxim that invariably the most moving and immersive of cinematic experiences are those that dispense with the presumption that diegesis need only be concerned with things dramaturgical.

In Upstream Colour there almost isn’t any dramaturgy, or at the very least, Carruth places us in the same radical position as his two stranded protagonists – forced, by being stripped of all their financial assets and previous vestiges and assumptions of first-world ‘status’, to reconnect with their intuition, their senses, their emotion (a Thoreauvian journey into discovering their inner ‘drummer’) to solve the narrative puzzle. Thus, what Carruth has crafted is a parable about life-cycle and the enduring battle in humans between the organic and the machine. I know there’s little point in trying to ascribe empirical meaning to what is essentially a hugely metaphoric work, but I almost took it that in some way the ‘Thief’ and the ‘Sampler’ were spiritual terrorists – breaking down corporate types and forcing them to reconnect with their inner-selves (hence the subtle hypnotic technique of making them write and recite Walden while ‘under the influence’, and suggesting kinship between man and that most earthy of beasts, the pig).

At times, with the prodigious amount of editing and sound design going on, one could accuse Carruth of coming a hair’s breadth from over-aestheticising the film, but even so, it imprints the notion that Carruth is trying to build his film (and the moral of that film) through experience and sense, rather than conventionally dramatic means. Who knows where this maverick auteur goes from here? I, for one, can’t wait to find out….(April 2014)

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