Last night I went to see ‘Blue is the warmest colour’. We arrived at the cinema quite late so the only seats available in the small screening area where on the front row. The movie does feature quite a lot of hand-held camera footage, so for periods of the movie, especially the sequences set around dining tables, I felt quite nauseous. For the duration of these scenes I had to stare at the floor and concentrate on my breathing. The film is 3 hours long, which made staying the duration a feat of endurance on my part. Despite this, I am glad it stayed to the end.
As with all good cinema, I have thought about the movie a lot since. Themes and meanings continue to reveal themselves long after the event. Adèle, the lead, is revealed to be a primarily sensual individual - not predisposed to over analysing situations. She lives, for better or worse, in the moment. We are taken through here life from mid-teens to mid twenties. But I don’t want to talk in detail about events - For me the movie is not about individual events, although they are handled extraordinarily well by the all involved.
The main thing I want to say about the movie, and the thing I am struggling to identify as having experienced as strongly in other works, is the movies affective quality. I want to say ‘maybe it is something to do with the running time, or the camera work - the close ups of Adèle’s face, the tears and snot and hair, the colour palette, the use of blue, the art - painting and figurative - depicting the female form (of which the movie itself is a fine addition), the conversations, the meals and their reception amongst different groups…’. But of course, it is all this, taken as a whole, that make the movie so affective. Picking out one aspect seems reductive. It is much more than the sum of its parts. The movie is immersive rather than voyeuristic in that, in the hours and days after viewing, you understand the value of Adèle’s way of being. In this way it is transformative beautiful art.
I have now seen Upstream Color (UC) three times; once knocked off from the internet on my laptop (I couldn’t wait), once on a big telly, and now, eventually, at the cinema. Each viewing has been revealed new ways to interpret the events that make up the movie. Each section of the movie could almost be viewed in isolation; a short movie in itself, but the episodic nature of the movie only adds to the movies affect. Together they tell a story that leaves space for the viewer to interoperate in different ways. On the third viewing, an entirely different interpretation occurred to me, leaving me eager to watch the movie again to see if this interpretation holds.
The director sets a tone for each event through the use of sound and the underlying music. Conversations occur, sometimes synced with the visual, often not. Themes and musical motifs repeat. Scenes are often filmed with a very tight focus rendering background or foreground in the abstract, focusing the viewer attention. The affect is like human memory - only focusing on the specifics - leaving out all of the assumed extraneous or peripheral events.
Returning to the movies musical score, each event is accompanied by a signature piece of music. Once viewed it is hard to imagine each scene without the musical score - they become integral to the way you experience the events. Motifs repeat, grand little flourishes - to my mind - signify grand themes being played out, in however a minor way. In this way, the movie almost works as a kind of concept album. The score is musically interesting enough to work in its own right (I’ve bought the sound track album and can attest to this).
I have tried to write this without including spoiler - What follows might contain some.
This is a movie that stays with you, lingering like fragments of a dream interrupted by a morning alarm call: The conversation during the dig in the back garden. The penultimate confrontation scene that you predict, but still gasp at Kris’s actions.
Not since ’Let the right one in’ have I been so captured by a movie. This is why I love the medium of film. Work like this slips into focus without much fanfare and takes over your thinking life for weeks at a time. This is the best movie I’ll see for a long time, and I’ll be watching it again and again for that reason.
And finally, this piece can’t really pass without mentioning that UC is largely the work of one individual - Shaun wrote, produced, directed, co-starred, and scored the movie. I almost want him to now go and do something else, never pick up a camera again. It is hard to imagine coming close to this achievement again. Shaun, go and open a pizza restraunt - I’ll travel to wherever it is once you are up and running for dinner.
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