Primer director Shane Carruth delivers a compelling, beautiful and well-nigh impenetrable drama
‘I was born with a disfigurement where my head is made of the same material as the sun,’ unhelpfully explains a mysterious character in writer/director Shane Carruth’s highly anticipated follow-up to his much discussed indie sci-fi time travel puzzler Primer. Such elliptical dialogue might sound strange, but proves to be as typically inscrutable as every other aspect of Carruth’s fascinating, compelling, beautiful and well-nigh impenetrable drama.
Providing any synopsis of Upstream Colour is like piecing together a dream; at the start, the narrative appears to be science fiction and concerns Kris (Amy Seimetz), who is forced to ingest some kind of micro-organism that controls her mind and forces her to sign off her possessions to a man known as The Thief (Thiago Martins). Another man, called The Sampler (Andrew Sensenig) transfers the organism to a pig, while Kris finds solace in a relationship with a man who seems to have had a similar experience, Jeff (played by Carruth himself, who also producer, co-editor, and cinematographer). Kris and Jeff’s budding relationship is blighted by strange lapses of behaviour, in which their identities and memories seem to merge with each other, leading them to track down those who attempted to control them.
Like any great work of cinematic art, Upstream Colour refuses to be broken down in any kind of convenient or conventional meaning; it’s a cinematic puzzle-box which harks back to the hypnotic power of Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad or Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating. Admirers of mainstream cinema need not concern themselves with Carruth’s work; Upstream Colour is not a conventional narrative film, and even repeated viewings do little to pin down specific meanings. But for those prepared to go with the abstraction, Upstream Color is a rewarding and mind-blowing experience.
Screening at Cineworld Fountainpark, Sat 22 Jun and Filmhouse, Sun 23 Jun as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013. Limited release from Fri 30 Aug.