One of cinema’s least publicized (though not by this publication) double acts is British director Steve McQueen and his leading man, the Irish-German actor Michael Fassbender. Their 2008 film, Hunger, which recounted the harrowing story of IRA martyr Bobby Sands, left an impression on everyone who managed to sit through it (probably with fingers over their eyes).
Their latest work is no less powerful. Shame is about Brandon (Fassbender), a New Yorker who shuns intimacy with women but manages to fulfill his (considerable) desires with a compulsive addiction to sex. When his younger sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) moves into his apartment, leading to memories of their shared painful past, Brandon’s life spirals out of control. What is it with Mulligan and men? Ryan Gosling’s Driver was doing just fine until she came into his life during Drive a few months ago.
Our own Richard Corliss wasn’t totally sold on Shame, smartly noting that, “In fact, it ought to be called Hunger — since shame suggests a feeling of ethical remorse, and Brendan doesn’t have ethics, only needs.” But the Hollywood Reporter was more gushing: “Its dramatic and stylistic prowess provides a cinematic jolt that is bracing to experience.” Whether you like it or loath it, you can’t deny that the McQueen-Fassbender double act is providing its share of talking points. Where they go next should prove equally fascinating.
It seems like a lifetime – or at least a very long sleep – ago that Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty was one of four films directed by women that was up for the top prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (in the end, the Palme d’Or went to Terrence Mallick’s Tree of Life). The film finally gets its U.S. release, which can now put it in the conversation for the Oscars, as it’s out before the December 31 deadline.
And the Australian novelist Leigh (who has the seal of approval from near neighbor, the New Zealander Jane Campion, on the poster) didn’t just direct but also wrote this latest version of Sleeping Beauty, which she describes as an “erotic fairytale.” (No doubt Shame‘s Brendan would also approve.) Emily Browning stars as the student who supplements her income by living up to the title: When drugged and unconscious, she submits to a bunch of rich old men’s masochistic yearnings.
The film polarizes online opinion. While Salon “found it gorgeous, opaque and disturbing in roughly equal portions” and Time Out London compared it to Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour (“Both are unabashed works of feminism in which female sublimation is employed to reflect the ugly traits of male sexual longing”) other opinions were available. The Observer thought that “the dialogue is mostly laughable and delivered in the stilted manner of up-market softcore porn,” with the Daily Telegraph concluding “it’s clear this emperor has no clothes, along with much of the cast.” All we can say with any certainty is don’t take the kids, as this is far removed from Disney’s version.
NewsFeed’s Flicks Pick: In a battle of the ‘S’ movies, Shame wins out over Sleeping Beauty. (But take the kiddies to The Muppets instead.)