Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Review: Upstream Color

Copyright: ERBP
I’m not certain what this movie requires from its viewers - maybe a bit of faith, or an attitude towards art that doesn’t demand reason before compassion towards imaginary characters we observe on the screen. Whatever that requirement might be, watching Upstream Color is definitely a challenging experience.

After he made Primer, director, writer, cinematographer and actor Shane Carruth did something unusual - he didn’t immediately try to transform attention that he righteously got into money. Instead, his energy went towards new movies - first, the failed A Topiary that we will probably never see, and now, Upstream Color. In this picture, everything we got in Primer is still here - unusual story backed up by an unwillingness to compromise on any level so that the audience can get a broader, but a more plastic understanding of the plot. The difference is that in this film, Carruth focuses on leaving words behind, and deals primarily in images and sounds.

The film follows Kris, a young woman working as a graphics production designer, who’s one day bumps into a man who tends a very special garden. She wakes up after that, and her lifesaving, as well as memory of previous days are gone. The experience is a crushing ordeal, although she try’s her best to start over. Soon, she meets  a man named Jeff, who is interested in her, and try’s to push through her new emotional shell. Simultaneously, a pig farmers life is somehow connected to theirs.

I have only one problem with this amazing movie - the sound design.

Soon after the beginning sequence ends and the plot thickens, sound design becomes bothersome, primarily in the parts where rhythmical noise gets looped and gradually increases in volume. Like a purposely distorted sequence that mimics a broken TV set for way too long, it starts in one point to undermine its original intention, transforming from interesting to obnoxious. Some may say that’s exactly the point, but irritation by sensory input alone is a shortcut that any director takes in his or hers conversation with the audience - movie Irréversible with its rotating camera is a perfect example. The ideas of any art form should by catalyst for induction of emotions in the audience, not the bright colors or loud sounds that present them.

Fortunately, Sean Carruth doesn’t lack in ideas that reside under the sometimes overwhelming sounds that surround the characters in Upstream Color. Here, love and life collide inside Kris and Jeff, who can’t feel anything other than being lost in the maze of their former lives, mistakes and unfortunate events. Instead of loosing hope, they find it in each other even if there is a possibility that a unseeing puppet masters is coldly playing with them.

This film left me with a desire to think about its meaning, but more than that, it left me with feelings.