Directed by Shane Carruth. 96 mins.
Worth my time? Yes. (Seen at Sundance Sunset 5, Hollywood)
Like a Malick of mathematics and metaphysics, Shane Carruth returns to the director’s-producer’s-writer’s-actor’s-composer’s chair nearly a decade after Primer, his nerd-porn microbudget phenomenom. This time around, Carruth delivers a piece that is engrossing but even more difficult to grasp than its predecessor, abeit for very different reasons.
I’m very pleased to see that Carruth did more than just a Primer redux for his follow-up feature. While Primer was a tough narrative nut to crack, it still abided by basic narrative structure and worked according to a consistent logic. It was like a difficult math problem – if you did all the steps correctly, the answer had to be correct.
Upstream Color, however, is a whole different ball game. Firstly, it is a far less dialogue-driven film than its predecessor – Carruth finally has enough confidence in his abilities as a director to favor showing rather than telling. Secondly, and more importantly, The film leaps off the ledge of Primer’s science fiction and plunges headfirst into magical realism. The surrealist elements and interwoven scenes don’t provide any neat foundation on which to build an understanding of the film, but no scene feels arbitrary either. Think of a midway point between the head-scratching Leos Carax and the utterly bewildering Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and you’ll get some idea of what to expect.
Visually, the movie is leaps and bounds beyond Primer. Carruth refuses to disclose the film’s budget – he even refused to disclose the camera on which it was shot, a question that I asked him personally – but he’s clearly taking advantage of expanded resources. The colors pop out and the lighting is soft and dreamy, with only the main characters or objects of interest coming into focus.
Carruth’s acting skills still aren’t grade-A, but he’s come quite a ways since Primer. His costar, Amy Seimetz, really steals the show. The characters’ romance is definitely cryptic and Carruthian, but it still manages to feel reel.
I think the United States may have found its answer to Weerasethakul.
– Carruth’s most improved talent in the last decade may be as a composer – the score is near-perfect.
(Seen and originally written on 2013-02-28)