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Simon Read [Film Festival 11.23.11] review drama

Year: 2010
Directors: Steve McQueen
Writers: Steve McQueen & Abi Morgan
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcyclops
Rating: 7 out of 10

Probably the most hotly anticipated film at LIFF this year played to an audience of one thousand people and I only just managed to get a ticket thanks to a random person handing me one and saying, “I’ve got a spare!” Steve McQueen’s new film is a character study of a lonely, emotionally barren man named Brandon, played by Hunger star Michael “So Hot Right Now” Fassbender, who indulges his addiction to sex and masturbation as often as his time allows, that is until his younger sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) drops by for a visit, throwing his life into a tailspin. I didn’t enjoy all this as much as I’d wanted too for various reasons, the principal being that the film is as emotionally cut-off as the central character, although as far as pure craft goes it’s close to perfect.

We open with a stylish montage of Brandon waking-up, going to work, having sex with various women, waking-up, going to work, having sex, etc. Every morning Sissy calls his answer phone to ask if he’ll pick-up, with increasing urgency and irritation, but day after day Brandon just ignores her. Sissy eventually drops by unannounced and Brandon reluctantly agrees to let her stay on his couch until she sets herself up in New York and finds work as a singer at an upscale nightclub. When Brandon’s womanizing yuppie boss discovers that his sister is in town he insists they go to see her perform, and as Brandon watches her sing ‘New York New York’, we catch a glimpse of the man who might lurk inside, before he retreats back into his emotionless shell. Brandon’s boss is called David and is cheating on his wife, using Brandon as an excuse to hit night clubs and flirt with girls, but at the end of the night is it really Brandon that he’s interested in? Let’s just say my gaydar was blinking pretty rapidly as the two men said goodbye. To reinforce a point, this is a film all about sex, and what it means to different people on various levels. Brandon uses it as a release, Sissy just wants to have fun and David sees Sissy as a female (accessible) version of his true crush; Brandon. As soon as Sissy becomes sexualized and starts to seriously threaten Brandon’s carefully constructed albeit sinister lifestyle, he begins to crash. All wonderfully perverse and the perfect set-up for a psycho-drama, but for me it just falls shy of greatness.

Steve McQueen is a very precise and gifted director and his camera moves with real grace. The acting too is pretty phenomenal across the board with Fassbender proving exactly why he’s in such demand (it’s also clear why these women fall under his spell as he’s gorgeous to look at) and Mulligan plays Sissy with real vulnerability and pain. It’s clear that this brother and sister have not had an easy time growing up (it’s left unspecified as to why they’re so damaged) but it’s left them unable to relate to each other on any level, causing frustration and constant tension between them. The problem simply lies with the fact that at no point are we able to connect with them either, and so it’s a rather empty exercise when it all boils down. I’m sure McQueen would jump up and explain that emptiness is deliberate and the entire theme of the film, but without any anchor an audience will leave feeling as drained and worthless as Brandon after an exhausting all night slamfest, only without the orgasm.

I had fun afterwards thinking of comparison mash-ups of other films and the most accurate one I could think of was, ‘Sex Lies & Videotape meets Shortbus by way of American Psycho’, but more depressing. I am really glad to have seen “Shame” as it is the real deal as far as providing provocative entertainment, I just prefer films that have an ounce of soul, and the characters here are simply alienating and selfish to point of disbelief. Perhaps if we knew what it was that caused all the pain they feel we’d be able to relate to them, but brave performances and measured, skillful direction are not enough to distract from near total emptiness. Contains much nudity of both genders, including Mulligan.

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ChrisR (10 years ago) Reply

sounds very much like S, L and V but without the strange dissonant stylishness - plus there was the 'good' 'virtuous' sister in S, L and V to provide a comparison, and the lushness of the deep south! Reminds me of Crash a bit with the coldness. Really don't know who'd like this sort of thing!


projectcyclops (10 years ago) Reply

Yes, it brought to mind Cronenberg's more challenging films. I only understood Crash as an example of a film criticising the book it was based on. It's crushingly dull. 'Shame' has a better sense of humour though, a few knowing winks and a pretty explicit gay scene. And it scores an easy 7 just for the freakiness.

Thanks for the comment ChrisR.

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