Hunger is not a film to be enjoyed, but to be appreciated…for its artistic merit and for its unflinching portrayal of a period in relatively recent history. It is primarily the story of Bobby Sands (played by Michael Fassbender), one of the Irish Republican Army members imprisoned in the late 1970’s in Northern Ireland for “political terrorism” (a divisive and debated term in and of itself ~ Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher claimed there was no such thing as political terrorism, only criminal terrorism). In 1981, Sands led a hunger strike in protest of the British Government’s refusal (under Thatcher’s rule) to grant the IRA prisoners political status as well as of its failure to acknowledge the prisoners’ requests for more humane prison conditions.
Hunger is British visual artist Steve McQueen’s (not to be confused with the actor Steve McQueen) directorial debut. (McQueen teamed again with Fassbender for last year’s Shame.) He does a strikingly effective job of portraying the inhumane and brutal conditions that existed within the infamous Maze prison in Belfast, as well the ways in which both the prisoners and those working within the prison were effected by the politically-sparked unrest. It is harrowing to watch…yet, at the same time, McQueen has his supremely artistic eye on exhibit in every single frame of the film. It is a wonder to behold…you could quite honestly hit the pause button at any moment in the entire movie and see a work of art. That he is able to make feces smeared on prison cell walls look like a painting is a revelation.
Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands
McQueen is masterful at putting you THERE, through a sort of naturalistic audio-visual language. He uses virtually NO soundtrack in the film, other than the organic sounds within a scene. The long silences speak volumes (you feel the time ticking away in those lonely, cold prison cells); they also serve to create a marked contrast for the uncontrolled noise that erupts at other times, making it that much more jarring and unnerving when it does (such as the rhythmic thumping of the batons the prison officers use to beat the prisoners). There are many long, static shots in which we are simply observers of whatever “happens to happen” within the frame, which truly does seem to mimic being there. You can almost feel the chill and smell the stench of urine, feces and rotting food (which made me incredibly grateful I wasn’t there). Continue reading →
And…the temperature of my Fassbender Fever continues to rise. In the most recent adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, director Cary Fukunaga is blessed to have the ever-impressive Michael Fassbender playing the charismatic ~ and enigmatic ~ Mr. Rochester alongside the equally talented Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right) as the title character. Both actors are more than up to the task of portraying these classic literary characters in this bewitching rendering of the gothic mystery/romance.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit (not without a modicum of shame), that I have never read Jane Eyre, nor do I recall seeing any of the umpteen film or television adaptations that have been produced of it over the years. So this was my very first introduction to the well-known work…which I’ll admit probably helped rather than hurt my experience of it. Granted, making the acquaintance of Mr. Rochester in the form of the magnetic Michael Fassbender did nothing to harm it, either. But again, just as in my review of Fish Tank, I sincerely believe I am capable of distinguishing between my love for Fassbender and the true quality of a film ~ and this is a beautifully done picture in every sense.
I was swept away by the film, nearly forgetting I was watching performances, a particularly impressive feat when it comes to period pieces, when one must adjust to the more formal language of the time. The majestic English landscapes (both lush and barren) gorgeously evoke the sweeping emotions of the narrative, especially those of the wonderfully rich character of Jane. Save for the flashbacks of her as a child, Wasikowska is in virtually every scene of the film. She is superb as the restrained Jane, more often than not conveying her thoughts and feelings through the most subtle of facial expressions and body language. Jane is a remarkably strong, honorable and admirably self-respecting young woman ~ it is impossible not to root for her or to feel her pain, joys and sorrows. It’s not often in a period piece one has the opportunity to see such an independent female character, one who is left to fend for herself from a young age…all of which underscores the desire to see her find true happiness.
Consider yourself forewarned that this will be the first of many reviews to come on films featuring Michael Fassbender. After seeing him at year’s end in films such as A Dangerous Method and Shame (a stunning, searing performance for which he should have earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination), I have become a full-on Fan (yes, that’s with a capital “F”). I have caught Fassbender Fever…in a big way. And am therefore working my way through his filmography. Yeah, he’s more than easy on the eyes ~ and as some may know, offers plenty of himself on which to feast the eyes (see Shame for full-frontal Fassbender). BUT there is much, much more to this man than just a handsome face (and breathtaking body). He is a terrifically talented actor, who shows great range and has yet to disappoint in anything I’ve seen.
His performance in Fish Tank is no exception. Written and directed by Andrea Arnold, the film won Best British Film at the 2010 BAFTAs ~ with good reason. It is a unique coming-of-age story centered on Mia, a foul-mouthed, back-talking, rebellious teen who has been kicked out of school and is struggling to find a way out of her stifled, unsupportive home life in a British housing project with a bitter, unloving single mother and feisty younger sister. (Father, whoever he is, is nowhere in sight nor is he ever even mentioned.)
Changes are set in motion when the girls’ mother brings home new boyfriend Connor (Fassbender), who ultimately has a profound effect on each of the women in the family (in various ways and for various reasons), but on no one more so than Mia. It is fascinating to observe the changing dynamics and ripple effects created by Connor’s charismatic presence, which, in the beginning is primarily positive for these women lacking any sort of stable, supportive male figure in their lives. It is Mia’s struggle to differentiate between Connor as a father figure and a man to whom she has a burgeoning attraction, that ultimately proves to be the stimulus for change ~ and growth ~ in Mia’s life.