May 15, 2008

Cannes. Hunger.

"A visceral, violent and deeply disturbing vision of life in the Maze prison, set during the 'dirty' protests and the second hunger strike of 1981, is offered up by Britain's most prominent entry in the Cannes film festival," writes Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian.


"Steve McQueen's Hunger, which focuses on the death of Bobby Sands after 66 days without food, prompted both applause and walk-outs as it premiered today, opening the prestigious Un Certain Regard section of the festival."

For Leslie Felperin, writing in Variety, Hunger is "a powerful, pertinent but not entirely perfect debut for British visual-artist-turned-feature-helmer Steve McQueen, who demonstrates a painterly touch with composition and real cinematic flair, but who stumbles in film's last furlough with trite symbolism."

In Screen Daily, Allan Hunter finds "a history lesson with obvious contemporary resonances in the so-called war on terror.... McQueen conveys the living hell of this situation with the composure of a forensic examiner.... If Loach is the obvious name that comes to mind, McQueen also has an element of Terence Davies in the lingering intensity he brings to bear on some of his most telling compositions."

"This is a sensational feature debut, fearless and uncompromising, bolder than any film to come out of the UK in a long time," writes the Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu. "The lighting is cold and drear. The sound design bleak. It's a film - as confrontational as the late Alan Clarke's Elephant - about extreme, intense spaces: those of Belfast, the jail cells, the psychology of those young men, ghosts in the making."

Updates, 5/16: "Hunger is extreme cinema for an extreme subject," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "It is outstandingly made; long wordless sequences are composed with judgment and flair and expository dialogue scenes are confidently positioned. It surely confirms McQueen as a real filmmaker."

"For McQueen, the details of hardline Republicanism, the specifics of Republican prisoners' arguments over their political status, and even the haunting voice of Margaret Thatcher on the soundtrack denouncing pity as the basest of human emotions all play second fiddle to an examination of exactly what it meant to live - and, for Sands and nine other prisoners, die - in prison in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s," writes Dave Calhoun for Time Out. "What McQueen and [Michael] Fassbender give us here is a martyr who literally gives his whole body over to a cause."

For the Independent, Arifa Akbar nabs quotes from Jan Younghusband, the executive producer of the film and commissioning editor of arts at Channel 4: "Let's remember we were doing this before Guantanamo." And McQueen: "The film, for me, has contemporary resonance. The body as site of political warfare is becoming a more familiar phenomenon. It is the final act of desperation; your own body is your last resource for protest."

Also, Kaleem Aftab: "The centrepiece of the film is a 22-minute single shot in which Sands reveals his plan to go on hunger strike to Fr Dominic Moran (Liam Cunningham).... The sympathetic portrait within this excellent film will cause much debate, and outrage."

"The film takes a while to settle down, pingponging between other prisoner and guards in the notorious Maze prison, but when it lands on Sands, played in an astounding physical performance by Michael Fassbender, Hunger takes hold, writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr.

Updates, 5/17:"In Hunger, we saw two projects," writes Emmanuel Burdeau in Cahiers du cinéma's Cannes diary:

One that fully draws its strength from McQueen's terrible artistic precision in the creating of images which can resume and condense, in two polar axes and as many gestures, a much larger situation: torture, family visits, imprisonment, an essay on daily life in a space of 19 square feet.

The other, that would at last answer the question: just how does that constitute a film? (Note: I didn't say cinema). It is, we think, in considering this question that McQueen built a complex system of temporal comings and goings constantly confounding what he calls our "moral benchmarks."

But in doing so, does he not fall back upon convention? Ours, or those of so many films: the convention of Rashomon, of flashbacks?

The question remains. And McQueen has our admiration.

Arifa Akbar profiles Fassbender for the Independent.

Reviews in German.

Updates, 5/18: "The film is a British revelation," declares the Observer's Jason Solomons. "McQueen is a raw talent with an innate feel for the language of cinema."

"Little in Cannes is likely to be as provocative as Hunger," writes Jonathan Romney in the Independent. "With an intense Michael Fassbender sparing himself no rigours in the lead, Hunger is bound to generate equally intense controversy: it's one of the most uncompromising films to emerge from Britain in some time."

Earlier Cath Clarke profiles McQueen for the Guardian.

Update, 5/19: "I have mixed feelings about Hunger, largely because the political and religious context of the hunger strikes is crucially important, and the movie deliberately withholds most of it," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "But as an immersive work of cinema that inevitably suggests more recent headline stories about famous prisons and the dire things that happen there, it's unforgettable."

Updates, 5/21: "If Waltz With Bashir seems specifically Jewish in its concern for the burdens of history, interpretation of dreams, and the nature of individual responsibility, Hunger... is an audaciously Catholic film," writes J Hoberman in the Voice:

Sands is shown as an explicitly religious martyr, and even the British cops are into a form of subtle self-mortification.

Deliberate verging on precious, Hunger opens as dryly academic as something by the Berwick Street Collective and then transcends mannerism halfway through with an extraordinary 20-minute single-take conversation between Sands (Michael Fassbender) and a not-unsympathetic parish priest (Liam Cunningham).

The film's harrowing final movement is a contemporary last passion that's informed not only by religious scripture but a thousand years of Christian art - with Margaret Thatcher herself, or at least her voice, playing the part of Pontius Pilate.

"Close camera shots within the prison cells evoke sweltering claustrophobia, and the unflinching lens of the camera brings us no relief from the brutality to which we are witnesses," writes Kim Voynar at Cinematical. "This is a violent film, but there is masterful artistry at work as well."

Updates, 5/22: Online listening tip. The Observer's Jason Solomons talks with McQueen.

"Suggesting a parallel between Margaret Thatcher's detetention policies and those of George W Bush, this first feature has more to say about the nature of fanaticism than any recent film on the subject," writes Ben Kenigsberg for Time Out Chicago.

Update, 5/24: Andrew O'Hehir talks with McQueen for Salon.

Update, 6/3: "Only in the last part of the film does Hunger lose force, as the director resorts to some trite imagery to convey Sands's final moments - unsurprisingly, the textbook lyricism of birds taking flight does not fit very well in a movie whose signature shot might be of a prison guard mopping up puddles of urine," writes Jason Anderson for Artforum. "But McQueen has done more than enough to convince viewers of his huge promise as a filmmaker."

Coverage of the coverage: Cannes 08.

Last year: Cannes @ 60. And Cannes 06.

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Posted by dwhudson at May 15, 2008 12:59 PM