Impressions of … Upstream Color [Shane Carruth]

a hotel bar, Toronto, the early hours, Terrence Malick, David Cronenberg and David Lynch have been knocking back the whiskey sours, Lynch and Cronenberg decide they should make a movie together: it will have dream logic – a maggot will be ingested – through an inhaler – later it will crawl beneath a woman’s skin – the maggot will be sourced in the roots of a blue orchid – ingestion will make the victim completely suggestible, she’ll give up all her savings and lose her job, but remember nothing – for the rest of the movie she’ll be trying to work out what the hell happened to her life – there will be rabbits – no, pigs – okay, pigs – it will be a romance, says Malick quietly

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Well, this movie has been made. By Shane Carruth. Who’s Shane Carruth? (No, not the guy serving the drinks in Toronto – that epic session never happened, I made it up.) Carruth is the guy who made ‘Primer’, the brilliantly mundane low-budget sci-fi feature that won Sundance back in 2004. I’d forgotten about him. ‘Upstream Color’ is sort of sci-fi too (I hope), this time pursued with sensuality and lyricism, both emotionally present and narratively elusive – it does have a narrative, but the logic is associative, the editing elliptical, and though, deep down, the film is rooted in procedure and process and details of ordinary life, the strange world it describes is one that doesn’t actually exist and one its characters struggle to understand

experimental, unnerving, a delight to the senses: this film is not a film, it’s a menu by Heston Blumenthal

an absolute treat

and possibly the greatest pig movie ever made

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~

‘Upstream Color’ is being self-distributed through Carruth’s company, available on DVD, Blu-ray, download, and streaming:
here

Impressions of … Man on a Ledge

Plot plot plot … Q: What does a screenwriter do when her characters don’t have, erm, characters? A: Give them some schtick.

This must have been a great pitch – man threatens to jump from the 26th floor of a NY hotel, while across the street a daring diamond heist is in motion – but it makes little more than a serviceable thriller: it’s all plot. Tricks were those pulled on the audience: the man isn’t really trying to commit suicide, the fight between the brothers at the father’s grave is staged, the father isn’t really dead (how they faked that one we’ll never know). There are no characters – because there is no subtext. The makers might just have gotten away with it too if they hadn’t felt the need to write so much dialogue. Chief victims were the two jewel thieves who, as boy and girlfriend, were supplied with a constant stream of bickering chatter. You see, although they were pulling off a complex, remarkable skillful heist, we had to understand they weren’t really professionals at all, they were amateurs doing it to exonerate the hero.

Yet there was something naive about this flick that makes me want to go easy on it (as if these weren’t really professionals at all, but amateurs making film to exonerate their brother): the simple (dumb?) morality of sticking it to the big bad businessman (Ed Harris, doing a quick turn as Gordan Gekko), with the good cops saving the day and everyone slapping each other’s back in an Irish bar, the affectionate references to ‘Dog Day Afternoon’, and the fundamental implausibility: the alleged crime was the theft of a rare diamond, innocence would be proved by proving the diamond had never been stolen at all … by stealing it for real – except this would be consistent with guilt more than innocence, so the screenwriters repeatedly told us the ‘diamond was believed to have been cut into pieces and sold’, and the invisible earpiece and microphone worn by the hero on the ledge (while his brother sported the more traditional headset)

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Impressions of … A Swedish Love Story (Roy Andersson)

now this is a film, not a script with moving pictures

it would be difficult, I think, to have read the script and known what it would become, indeed, I doubt it would have been allowed to become anything by modern script editors: it doesn’t tell a proper story, or tell the story properly: a teen romance in which the climax – and the grandest, most coherent sequence – concerns the petty disputes of the desperate adult characters

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boy meets girl (or boy and girl meet, as neither is privileged by the narrative), boy and girl eventually get together (they’re shy teens), they sort of split up (they’re teens, there’s no good reason), and they get back together (more passionately now – and at this point, we discover she’s not yet fourteen), all this has some shape to it, but this shape is little more than an outline of hope pressed into the soft dysfunctional substance of adult life, they are surrounded by generations of confused, cynical, disconnected, and disappointed adults: these young lovers are star-crossed not because the adults present an obstacle to the young lovers – not for the duration of the film anyway, they barely get involved – but simply because, judging by these adults, love does not last, disappointment is as inevitable as death

the genius of the film is to affirm the young lovers regardless: this is why the climax need not directly concern the lovers, not its consequences be related explicitly to them

the staging won me over: understated yet teeming with life, events (story beats) are often embedded in larger scenes, with lots of incidental action, some accidental and included, some choreographed without being afforded any particular emphasis, the camera kept its distance, the visit to the relatives in the (psychiatric?) hospital grounds was a tour de force in this respect, amid the untidy, dutiful chaos of the visits the two teens spot each other, a wonderful dance of missed glances ensues, and they go their separate ways

this is substantial realism, rather than a cosmetic realism which provides a recognizable setting merely as a strategy to make its story more convincing, here the story floats on surface of the world and will eventually be dissolved by it

(incidentally, the film could be R-rated for cigarette smoking, teens lighting up in almost every scene, a realistic detail in 1970, no doubt, but something that would have been self-censored by UK filmmakers)

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Impressions of … Lotus Eaters (Alexandra McGuinness)

this makes Sofia Coppola seem substantial: hip, cool, luxurious and perfectly insular

you wonder what this is about, I mean, clearly it’s about a gaggle of aimless, complacent trustafarians, but what is it about? what’s the theme? – how hard it is to make up your mind when you’re living in the social whirl and easy prey to dastardly manipulative characters?

it ought to be satire, but for this to work as satire, you would need a character outside the consensus as protagonist, or victim (Martin Amis’ trick), someone who wants in, or wants out, but this is just a drama about the empty love lives of the young and idle and rich to be enjoyed by the young and idle and rich, it holds a mirror up to this world, yes, but then they all gather around and fix their make up in it

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they say write what you know – Alexandra McGuinness seems to know this milieu, she seems very invested in the milieu, and lavishes romantic, glamorous black and white on it, but she doesn’t dig very deep

at least Coppola has a recurring theme: a spoiled princess wants attention (from her daddy/husband), McGuinness has nothing to say – except that she has impeccable taste, which is true of her characters, and the film is almost as complacent as its characters, considering a blasè treatment of a melodramatic plot to be cool understatement, this is complacent, not digging deeper into the material, this is laziness, or cowardice (not upsetting friends?)

the ending was tragic, but confused: the villainess and the obnoxious northerner die in a head-on collision as does the very rich French dreamboat, whose only thought seems to be longing for Antonia Campbell-Hughes (god knows why? does he have a thing for pixies?), now was this meant to be a sad outcome for our protagonist, or just the collateral damage of her getting it on with the other more sympathetic character – (sympathetic because sincere) – were we meant to happy about that liaison? then why did her (symbolic) horse suddenly break down, in a cross-cutting montage with the motor accident, leaving her on her knees and in tears? has she lost something? did she do something very wrong?

(shrugs shoulders)

Impressions of … The Man From London (Belà Tarr)

don’t know why it took me so long to sit down and watch this, the Turin Horse has come and gone since this came out, maybe I knew it wasn’t sensational and let it slip down the queue, but Bela Tarr and film noir are a good fit as well as a good rhyme

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the opening music was underwhelming, an imitation of strings, and the overheard dialogue was superfluous, blatant – and so blatantly recorded later – it rendered a mysterious situation banal, not a good start (disconcerting to hear Michael Lonsdale’s voice but see someone less charismatic stepping out from behind the bar, a consequence of casting faces?)

Tilda Swinton … her performance would’ve been great, in a more dramatic film – despite the stilted french

the film got interesting when Maloin stopped on his way home to watch his daughter, she was the one good thing in his life, idealized, protected, you began to think he would do anything for her, you waited for that to happen, but in the end he only went as far as buying her a fur coat, and ruining her reputation in the local job market, before handing in the ‘found’ money – I understood this decision, the burden of suspicion was too much for him, but I was hoping the burden would make him crack in another way, it felt anti-climatic, especially as we were not allowed to witness the second killing in the film

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nice sequence in Maloin’s tower as Maloin watches the detective and waits for him to settle on him as a suspect, this is where the long takes came into their own, no respite from the tension, whereas in a later sequence the camera fixes on the face of the criminal’s wife as she learns of his misdeeds, she cries, but does not break the inspector’s monologue, nice technique, but you can’t make us care about someone just by showing their face for five minutes and watching them cry, Belà, not when we want to know about someone else, not when the story is elsewhere …

(or did the Simenon novel visit all these characters?)

Impressions of … Seul Contre Tous (Gaspar Noè)

this is what critics might call a character study, a character study of a cunt – sorry, but there’s no better word for him, near the end of the film we are warned explicitly, in capital letters, to leave the theatre, but this warning might have been placed in the opening titles, we are about to spend 85mins pressed up against a sweating, scowling, seething ball of resentment, ‘the Butcher’, a character who you would inch away from at the bar, shrink from at the bus stop, yet we don’t leave the theatre, we watch … and in my case, perhaps perversely, enjoy

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I say it’s a character study, but ‘study’ is the wrong word, Gaspar Noè’s style is too bracing, too attention-grabbing, too provocative, for anything as calm and informative as a ‘study’, no, the unemployed butcher pours out his life story, in voice-over, at a speed that recalls the irreverent opening narration of ‘Jules et Jim’, or the rapid, cross-cut, flash-backed autobiographies in Resnais’ ‘Mon Oncle d’Amerique’, it’s a dismal tale of neglect, despair and ignorance, the guy is clearly a product of his blighted up-bringing, but his manner and behaviour make it very difficult to sympathise, or, make for some very queasy moments when you can sympathise and also condemn at the same time

but ultimately you want to excrete this guy, you’d rather he didn’t exist

there’s a game going on here, between Noe and the audience, a game of dare – as noted above – there’s also a fat dollop of Brecht, all the text, the slogans, the overt consideration of power and morality, and there’s Mac the Knife, but Noe, hmmm, he seems to be glorifying in nihilism, which is a paradox, I guess

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we are led to expect a climactic act, or two, of homicidal violence: his life story hinges on it – in fact, there is an attempted murder of an unborn child – and once the guy acquires the gun, well, he goes on about it, it’s just a matter of time, but it’s then, in the climactic scene, the games with the audience begin in earnest (so to speak)

kind of brilliant, kind of obnoxious

Impressions of … Oblivion (Joseph Kosinski)

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oh my, what a seemless blend of CGI and cinematography, and beautiful production design, particularly liked his neo-helicopter, or whatever it was – but why a husband and wife drone repair team are provided with such architecturally elegant digs is a mystery (did they really need that swimming pool?)

the plot, on the other hand, is a not quite seemless blend of sci-fi tropes (La Jetee, Matrix, Total Recall, Moon, Planet of the Apes Independence Day, and many many more), conventional and, at times glib, but it’s pretty effective – it didn’t matter that I had guessed the ‘twist’ from seeing the trailer; the flashback sequence before the climax was a clever touch, and I confess I was moved (yes, what a confession: moved by a Tom Cruise sci-fi flick), what does Mamet say, ‘a simple act of heroism’ … plus my personal favourite, unrequited love

I think it was Andrea Riseborough who won me over: the first half hour was essentially a two-hander (not counting Melissa Leo’s appearance by way of their video screen), just Riseborough and Cruise (mostly Cruise), she is prodigiously talented and slightly crazed – my brother-in-law noted her dilated pupils; the nuance of her line readings are a different class, she brought the best out of Tom, and they gave her a very flattering dress to wear, which she also removed

Morgan Freeman’s first scene (with cigar) was naff