Upstream Color

Amy Seimetz and Shane Carruth in ‘Upstream Color’

The only repeat today at New Directors/New Films is Die Welt. Otherwise, it’s first showings all the way, another round of three.

We begin today’s batch with Anthony Kaufman at Sundance Now on Anton’s Right Here: “Shot over six years by Russian film critic Lyubov Arkus and her videographer Alisher Khamidkhodzhaev, the film chronicles the moving story of an autistic teenager named Anton Kharitonov. With a mother dying of cancer and a father who is largely absent, Anton soon finds himself on his own, passing through a variety of institutions and residences, helped along the way by the filmmakers, who become more intimately involved with the young boy’s fate. Depending on the kind of care he receives, Anton adapts in vastly different ways, transforming into a listless, repetitive, unsmiling drone when he’s put in a massive hospital-like facility, or a carefree, creative and beaming young man when taken to a special outdoor camp for people with disabilities.”

“To reveal too much of his progress would undermine the satisfaction of having curiosity sated,” writes Howard Feinstein at Filmmaker. “Arkus is a polished manipulator, at first evoking sympathy for the sick and worried mother, then ennobling the ‘overworked’ father who had abandoned wife and son. As engaging as this documentary is, you can’t help but wonder how a veteran film critic could make a doc that does not trust its audience.”

“When focused most squarely on Anton’s alternately joyful and distant boyish countenance,” writes Nick Schager in Slant, “Anton’s Right Here can be wrenching, aided by deft digital cinematography and sharp editing that repeatedly emphasize shared glances and far-off gazes that touchingly capture Anton’s tormented condition. Given somewhat redundant footage that unnecessarily protracts its running time, the film proves a bit too rambling. Still, in its hopeful coda, it remains a stirring portrait of the nonfiction camera as a tool for healing and enlightenment, and of humanity’s dogged desire to—per a paper Anton once wrote—’endure.’”

More from Chris Knipp and Neil Young (Hollywood Reporter). Update, 4/6: Max Nelson interviews Arkus for Film Comment.

People’s Park emerges from Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, the media anthropology program that recently yielded the superb Leviathan,” begins John Semley in Slant. “There’s some overlap in personnel between the two films that’s reflected in their intersecting sensibilities: People’s Park co-director J.P. Sniadecki collaborated with Leviathan co-director Véréna Paravel on 2010’s Foreign Parts, another Sensory Ethnography Lab joint. But where Leviathan is radically discontinuous, cut together from countless abused GoPros and accounting for a panoply of perspectives into the ecosphere of a commercial fishing vessel, People’s Park takes an opposing tack, capturing the gentler rhythms of a public park in Chengdu, China in a single unbroken take.”

Dennis Lim in the New York Times: “People stroll, snack, socialize, practice calligraphy and engage in a wide variety of song and dance, from Chinese opera to pulsing disco. Some ignore the camera; others play to it. The filmmakers, Libbie Dina Cohn and J. P. Sniadecki, are never seen, but their presence is felt, not least because of how they chose to portray the park’s myriad denizens and activities: as a literal panorama of leisure and revelry, filmed in one long tracking shot.” He sketches a history of feature-length single-shot movies and talks with Sniadecki. More from Manohla Dargis: “Using a wheelchair, a lightweight consumer-grade digital camera, and a microphone strapped to the arm of the chair, the directors—Ms. Cohn held the camera while Mr. Sniadecki pushed the chair—plunge you into a human tributary on which you drift and flow and occasionally stop dead, only to rise up and up and up in the astonishing, infectiously joyous finale.”

“The film is lovely, the intense greens of the grass and the browns of tree trunks a fine manicured backdrop for the unmatched ensembles and wide demographic of passersby in the directors’ way,” finds Howard Feinstein. “Chengdu is renowned for its laid-back lifestyle, and the unhurried pace and play in the park confirm its reputation. Each person they encounter becomes part of a natural, democratic mise-en-scene. ( ”

“While People’s Park may be a ‘meditation on cinematic time and space,’ as film catalogs describe it,” writes Anthony Kaufman, “it’s also, more simply, an intimate and pedestrian film about a walk in the park.” More from Chris Knipp, Jorge Mourinha, and Daniel Pratt (Exclaim!).

We already have quite a roundup on Upstream Color, begun when the long-awaited film premiered at Sundance in late January and rolling on for a full month afterwards. A week ahead of its theatrical premiere, Upstream Color screens tonight at the Walter Reade and on Saturday at MoMA.

“When Shane Carruth’s Primer emerged at Sundance nearly a decade ago, it seemed perversely inscrutable, a left-brain puzzle film made by and for the mathematically inclined,” begins Calum Marsh at Slant. “But Upstream Color, which premiered at Sundance to a combination of bafflement and acclaim, is no obtuse Turing machine fashioned from spare parts in the garage. The film instead upends expectations by resolutely abandoning Carruth’s most recognizable characteristics as director. Where Primer was cold, ascetic, and scientifically rigorous, Upstream Color is lush, rhythmic, and deeply sensual, striking on a purely aesthetic level, the whole enterprise less interested in a framework of narrative complication than in the formal pleasures that narrative inspires. And the formal pleasures are endless: From its exquisite, sun-streaked digital photography to its gleaming ambient score, both remarkably products of Carruth himself, this is a film of exceptional beauty.”

“Actor-director Amy Seimetz plays office worker Kris, the victim of a voodoo roofie that leads her to hand over her worldly savings to some hypnotist dude and gives her a tapeworm,” explains Nicolas Rapold in the L. “Kris meets-cute (or -crazy) Jeff (Carruth, who also wrote, edited, shot, and scored), a sweet-hearted embezzler; they seem equally trapped and troubled but nurture one another, at least until a folie à deux takes over. Like a biology textbook written on weed, Kris’s ordeal is somehow interconnected with environmental pollution and a pig farm—call it go-green metempsychosis. Recitations from Walden are also involved; the trailer maybe makes more sense than the movie.”

“While the plot is teasingly oblique, the premise evokes the early, body-horror films of David Cronenberg,” writes the NYT‘s A.O. Scott. “The mood and the look, however, owe a more obvious debt to Terrence Malick and Andrei Tarkovsky…. Though Upstream Color may not be more than the sum of its effects, these are impressive and strange enough to make it worth arguing about.”

Dennis Lim talks with Carruth for the NYT, and Hillary Weston interviews him for BlackBook, but the profile everyone’s talking about is Brian Raftery‘s for Wired.

Updates, 4/1: “I’ve seen Upstream Color twice and liked it enormously while never being certain of anything,” writes New York‘s David Edelstein. “This is not precisely an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ situation. The clothes are real—or at least surreal. It’s the emperor I’m not sure about. But some movies warrant a leap of faith.”

The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody sees “a vision as vast and as natural as it is reflexively cinematic and fiercely compassionate.”

Updates, 4/2: For the Playlist, Jessica Kiang talks with Carruth about A Topiary, “which was long slated to be his Primer follow-up before falling through (some details of which you can also read here), his involvement in Rian Johnson’s Looper, and most tantalizingly, some details on what he hopes will be his next project The Modern Ocean.”

Jordan Hoffman interviews Carruth for

Upstream Colo

Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz in ‘Upstream Color’

Updates, 4/6: We begin with Reverse Shot, where Elbert Ventura has revisited Primer: “Years and multiple viewings later, the movie seems an inexhaustible resource—and, watched again today, even more miraculous than I remembered. It stands alone, an alien monolith in the landscape, unmoored to a cinematic school or movement, oblivious to fashion or trend.” And Michael Koresky: “Upstream Color feels desperate to impress—and it’s no surprise that in interviews Carruth talks about wanting to offer a ‘new language’ of cinema. The more we discover about the world Carruth has created, the more schematic it feels in its obscurity, as though it’s purposely eliding its concrete center because if we are privileged to look too long and hard at it we might dismiss it as silly or half-baked…. Despite a preponderance of shallow-focus shots—evidence that Carruth has a slightly trendier aesthetic now than when he made Primer—Carruth occasionally happens upon a beguiling image. Or a compelling fragment of a thought. But there’s no totalizing, stabilizing force, as one gets in a film by Malick, to whom Carruth has been simplistically compared. Upstream Color plays more like an overly straight-faced work by Charlie Kaufman, whose films also stab out in all directions, always generously, never boringly, sometimes fruitlessly.”

Upstream Color isn’t an arduous head-scratcher if you don’t worry about what it means and just go with the trippy flow,” writes Manohla Dargis in the NYT. “Mr. Malick’s imprint on Mr. Carruth, however deliberate, runs deep. It’s evident in Mr. Carruth’s emphasis on the natural world; his use of Walden; the hushed voices and many images, including some time-lapse photography of a dead pig decaying underwater, which registers as the catastrophic inverse of the time-lapse sequence of a seed sprouting underground in Days of Heaven. (Mr. Carruth’s movie at times feels like days of hell.)”

“Although its story is meticulously conceived and covers a much broader span of action and group of characters,” writes Richard Brody, “it conveys a sense of having been invented spontaneously by means of the camera, as if Carruth were discovering the story in real time rather than realizing it as planned. The difference—the advance—involves more than aesthetic pleasure or even existential risk; it’s a crucial deepening of Carruth’s ideas, which are among the most philosophically sophisticated in the contemporary cinema.”

Upstream Color is entirely remarkable,” writes Glenn Kenny at MSN Movies, “in a way an uncanny amalgam of the sensibility of David Cronenberg and the editing innovations of Alain Resnais and Richard Lester, and in another way an entirely singular feat of cinematic engineering. It’s a movie about, among other things, DNA, and it very dearly wants to get into yours.”

More from Steve Erickson (Gay City News), Craig Hubert (Artinfo), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York, 3/5), Matt Singer (Criticwire), Scott Tobias (AV Club, A), and Stephanie Zacharek (Voice).

Before turning to the next round of interviews with Carruth—and there are plenty—let’s note that, at Filmmaker, Sarah Salovaara has a terrific profile of Seimetz, who “began making films when she was 18, at home in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, a place she frequently returns to in life and work. Following a short-lived tenure at film school, Seimetz made her way to Los Angeles, where she met the experimental filmmaker James Benning and the cinematographer Jay Keitel. While the former deeply impacted her work, the latter, Seimetz says, ‘spawned the idea that I could work collaboratively with someone forever.’… Since 2009, Seimetz has racked up nearly 40 acting credits in shorts, features, and television, but there is not the slightest air of self-importance when speaking of her on-screen ubiquity…. Once The Killing wraps in July, Seimetz hopes to shoot a new script, which she describes as tonally different from previous works—’dark but comedic’—and in increments, as she did with Sun Don’t Shine.”

Back to Carruth and those interviews. Jessica Kiang‘s posted the second half of hers, and there are more from Sam Adams (AV Club), Mark Allen (Awl), David Fear (TONY), Anya Jaremko-Greenwold (Bomb), Nelson Kim (Filmmaker), Eric Kohn (Indiewire), Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant), Scott Macaulay (Filmmaker), Jordan M. Smith (Ioncinema), and Chris Whale (Twitch).

Viewing. “Following its ND/NF screening, Carruth sat down with selection committee member Marian Masone to talk about the film and answer questions from the audience.” The FSLC’s Nicholas Kemp presents highlights as well as the full video of the Q&A.

Update, 4/9: “It makes sense that Shane Carruth, a polymath with a degree in mathematics, would make a film whose mode of telling most closely resembles a fractal,” writes Violet Lucca for Film Comment. “Apart from its references to Walden, Upstream Color is a self-contained, modern-day fable that is built on and beholden to science instead of religion. Each dense, polyvalent scene spirals around the next, utilizing exquisitely composed soundscapes and imagery to create an emotionally profound experience. At its core, Upstream Color is a bio-philosophical take on the rape-revenge film.”

Updates, 4/11: “I just saw Upstream Color. What … just happened?” Slate‘s Forrest Wickman posts a FAQ.

“I’m fairly certain that not really understanding what’s going on in Upstream Color is part of its loopy allure,” writes Cheryl Eddy in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

“Carruth is stilted and cold, his analytic personality unfit for a guy wiped by a worm,” writes R. Emmet Sweeney at Movie Morlocks. “But Seimetz gives the movie its grounding, her transformation from consciousness to blank slate is a true metamorphosis, her bright energy dulled into cow-eyed sloth, her movements slowed as she were still mapping out the world in her head.”

“The film is gorgeous and melancholy but runs into several plot problems in the final act,” finds Charles Mudede, writing in the Stranger. “Indeed, the ridiculous ending almost kills the whole film. The fact is Upstream Color does not need a resolution. All it had to do was drift aimlessly from one gorgeous scene to another, like a massive country of a cloud with a sun setting behind it.”

A few days ago, Steven Soderbergh and Carruth “took to the stage to discuss an array of things from the pattern of conspiracies in life, to the non-presence of cats in the film, whether or not Carruth’s boots proved he was intact an outdoorsy type.” And Hillary Weston was there to take extensive notes for BlackBook.

Updates, 4/13: Another FAQ’s popped up, this one from Daniel D’Addario at Salon.

Michael Smith: “I recently came across an interview with Stanley Kubrick (to whom Carruth has been favorably compared by more than a few critics), in which he said that he was never sure if story was the most important thing in a movie or if story was what allowed him to do all of the other things he really wanted to do. Carruth’s sympathies would seem to fall squarely on the latter end of Kubrick’s equation, as his exploitation of genre elements functions primarily as a fascinating pretext for him to explore various themes and ideas. Primer may outwardly appear to be a science-fiction head-scratcher but it is really more ‘about’ the themes of ethics, friendship and betrayal that could ultimately be explored in any genre. My perspective on Upstream Color is that it starts off as an intellectual horror movie and then slowly and surprisingly transitions into a touching love story (though I fully admit that this perception might change upon further viewings).”

“Is this lab experiment the future of movies, or just a lyrical offshoot?” asks Robert Horton.

Update, 4/16: For Grantland, Zach Baron goes drinking with Carruth: “By the end of the night I’ll have turned into Timothy Q. Mouse, and Carruth will briefly forget how to get to where he lives, though mercifully not the address. It will take us both a while to remember that Google Maps exists. And then we will make it home. But before that, Carruth will say all kinds of things he probably otherwise would not have said: about his perplexing, heartrending new film, Upstream Color, mostly, but also about love and loneliness and Justin Timberlake. He’s 40, without health insurance, has no permanent residence. People in Hollywood are calling him about making movies he’ll never, ever make. He’ll happily talk about all of it. He just has one requirement. ‘Whatever gets written,’ he says, long after this has already become the case, has to involve ‘two drunken guys at a bar.’”

“Sensuous and emotional where Primer was austere and withholding,” writes Elbert Ventura for the American Prospect, “Upstream Color is an altogether radical work, relentlessly finding ways to fracture narrative and use the language of movies to express knotty ideas. It is also the most original American film to come out in the last couple of years. In a culture that congratulates itself on living through a Golden Age of Television, in a year that awarded the diverting, disposable Argo the Oscar for Best Picture, Upstream Color is a reminder that there are still experiences that movies—and only the movies—can give us.”

Updates, 4/21: “I like what the film is about, but I am not sure I like how it is about it.” M. Leary explains at Filmwell.

Patrick Courtney talks with Carruth for the Austin Chronicle.

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