Strangely traumatised Kris (played by the mesmeric Amy Seimetz) moves around an urban bad-land in an unnamed American city. It's a bleak, listless place that Tarkovsky might have dreamt up. Nobody says very much, the soundtrack is sparse and irregular, brooding synth or fragmentary bits of tinkly keyboard.
Seimetz, it should be said, has that forlornly tragic and gamin air of the young Juliette Binoche and she is clearly just as great an actress. She communicates disquiet and internal turmoil with the kind of art one associates with those great women who worked with Ingmar Bergman for Cries and Whispers.
The movie sort of blobs along like a discommoded jellyfish, with no scenes that open and close neatly. Speaking of fish, in its favour it has some of that deliberately indolent air of Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumblefish. Rumblefish had strange fish, Upstream Colour has weird worms. A sneaky thief manages to get Kris to swallow the worms, in pill capsules which he has tampered with. Her cognitive ability is damaged, and the thief gets her to sign papers at a bank before disappearing with all she owns.
Then she meets up with edgy mercurial Jeff, who is played by the film’s director Shane Carruth. He is in another thief, who has stolen from clients’ accounts and has been given a second chance. Jeff and Kris start to go out together, in so far as you do in an oddly underpopulated, dystopian place where the only boyfriends are thieves. She finally allows him to kiss her, and he seems to be good for her. He cheers her up and distracts her in their childish skites around the city. But things go crazy and unhinged again. And there is this sub-plot involving Kris and a music composer/pig farmer which is utterly unfathomable.
Upstream Colour must be commended for an effort to do things differently and indeed for great performances from the two lead actors. However, there is a great film about two damaged souls struggling to get out from inside this over-elaborate, over-blown and overly-cryptic exercise. Over to you, cinema-goer, be brave.