The Genuinely Enigmatic film “Upstream Color”.

Shane Carruth and Amy in "Upstream Color".

Shane Car­ruth and Amy Sein­metz in “Upstream Color”.

When talk­ing about his 1987 film Wings Of Desire, Wim Wen­ders said there are two types of films. Those that say this is what I am, be it a thriller, a love sto­ry, or a roman­tic com­e­dy. And then there are those that ask you, what am I?

Few films fit quite so com­fort­ably into that sec­ond cat­e­go­ry as Shane Car­ruth’s lat­est fea­ture, Upstream Col­or. This is the fol­low up to his 2004 debut Primer, which was inter­est­ing, but very much a first film call­ing-card. This is a sig­nif­i­cant­ly more sub­stan­tial affair. So what is it?

Amy Steinmetz in Upstream Color.

Amy Stein­metz in Upstream Col­or.

Well, it’s clear­ly some class of a love sto­ry. But the two leads, played by Car­ruth him­self and the impres­sive Amy Sein­metz seem to inhab­it some sort of a con­tem­po­rary dystopia, where nefar­i­ous indi­vid­u­als are har­vest­ing mutant maggots.

Against which though, there seems to be some sort of benign indi­vid­ual shad­ow­ing the vic­tims to admin­is­ter a cure, in much the same way that the angels glide through the afore­men­tioned Wings Of Desire offer­ing succour.

Bruno Ganz in Wenders' "Wings Of Desire".

Bruno Ganz in Wen­ders’ “Wings Of Desire”.

But Car­ruth is clear­ly at least as inter­est­ed in visu­al and son­ic jux­ta­po­si­tions and the con­nec­tions and moods they pro­duce, as he is in nar­ra­tive coher­ence or intel­lec­tu­al clar­i­ty. Remark­ably, and very unusu­al­ly, this doesn’t detract– at least as yet — from the expe­ri­ence of watch­ing his films.

Steven Soder­bergh has said of him that,

I view David as the ille­git­i­mate off­spring of David Lynch and James Cameron.”

But the loud­est cin­e­mat­ic echoes evoke David Cro­nen­berg (whose under-rat­ed Cos­mopo­lis I review ear­li­er here). If Cro­nen­berg had tak­en acid and had some­how man­aged to make an entire fea­ture film that night, this is what it would look and feel like.

Cold, unques­tion­ably, at times creepy, and at oth­ers some­what anaemic. But con­stant­ly inter­est­ing and end­less­ly fas­ci­nat­ing. This is that rare thing, a gen­uine­ly enig­mat­ic film. And Car­rruth is one of the very few seri­ous film mak­ers work­ing today.

See the trail­er to Upstream Col­or here.

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