Goodness, this film is tough. It’s like a weird mixture of Terrence Malick and Lars von Trier, with a bit of David Lynch thrown in for fun. Except that it’s not very fun at all. It’s a painful, messy collage of scenes that may well seem connected in the director’s mind, but they don’t really come together for the viewer.
To be honest, this type of film doesn’t really benefit from a star rating, as there will be so many different reactions to it. So take the 2 stars as a pinch of salt. As always, I mean the stars as only a guide to my reaction, not as a guide as to how all audiences should or will react.
Shane Curruth made a name for himself over ten years ago with Primer. Now, after a lengthy gap, he is trying to get noticed again with this picture. To be fair, the movie has won its admirers. I’m just not one of them.
Occasionally we get a flourish of imagery that is mesmerising enough to lift Upstream Colour into levels of interest. It ceases to become meaningless and achieves briefly the thing it so desperate strives to encapsulate: meaningful. But then things get a bit ridiculous. The sequences go on to long without much payoff or purpose, and patients are tested beyond their limits.
It may well be that you find bloody, though calmly filmed, operations done on a woman’s leg (inter-cut with surgery on a pig) fascinating. You might find decomposing flesh in a natural stream a beautiful thing to look at. You may like to see people fall in and out of love and grasp each other in bathtubs while they mutter things that don’t make much sense. To you, this film may be a masterpiece. And you are welcome to it. As for me – and believe me when I say that I really did want to like it – I found it a pretentious boredom fest.
None of the characters are very likable, nor do we find out enough about them for us to sympathise or even actively dislike them. This is the kind of visual poetry that can either fly high (like Malick’s To the Wonder) or drop like a stone. In my opinion, this film belongs to the stone variety.
Upstream Colour (2012), directed by Shane Curruth, is released in the UK by Metrodome Distribution on 30 August, Certificate 12A.