Friday, 28 June 2013

Film Review // Shame

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Directed by Steve McQueen
Starring Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie

Brandon (Fassbender) is a sex addict living in New York, whose lifestyle and obsession turns into self-destruction when his young, erratic sister Sissy (Mulligan) comes to stay.

I had wanted to watch Shame for a while, and as I had some time to kill today waiting for my new laptop to be delivered (which I am in love with, by the way!), I took the opportunity to finally see it on Netflix.

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Seconds in to the film, I realised I wasn't quite emotionally prepared for it. It starts with a macabre scene between Brandon and a strange women on the tube, where playful flirting soon becomes uncomfortable, interspersed with shots of him paying women for sex. We soon identify Brandon as an extremely lonely man with an uncontrollable habit. I will warn you, if easily offended by sexual scenes or nudity, then steer clear of this one, because there's a lot of it. The whole film is very up-close and personal, particularly with Michael Fassbender, but what I think the director has done so well is make the sex scenes totally devoid of emotion and deglamourised (is that a word?), making them part of the story rather than gratuitous.

The only glimmer of hope we see is Brandon attempting to start a relationship with colleague Marianne; their chemistry in a voyeuristic scene of their first date brought a genuine smile to my face, and their almost-love scene is the only romantic one of the film. 

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Michael Fassbender is just incredible in this film. He fully commits himself to the role, and I think he is one of the best actors around at the moment. He simultaneously conveys the sinking feeling of despair with the mask of a charming man. Carey Mulligan is also brilliant, in probably the most outspoken role I've seen her in. She is brash and troubled and mesmerizing, and the scenes between Sissy and Brandon are the best of the film. The one seen from behind them on the sofa (in the image above), where Brandon finally expresses his anger towards her, had me holding my breath, it was so full of tension. 

The direction is stunning, too; the shots are long and static (Sissy singing in the club, Brandon running off his impulses), often focusing on the characters midriffs rather than their faces, and this gives a very realistic feel. This realism is also created through the minimal dialogue and the fact a lot is expressed visually rather than verbally. Shame has been criticised for not having enough development of the siblings' troubled past (which was obviously influential in who they are now), but I think this reflects reality; unlike some, more mainstream, films, where character backgrounds are nicely summed up in a speech or a flashback, here the audience are left to imagine it for themselves. The soundtrack of mostly hypnotising classical piano music is also brilliant, giving a kind of poetic feel. That sounded kind of cheesy, but you'll know what I mean if you see it.

Shame has had a mixed reception; some felt it lacked in storyline, others think it a masterpiece. I personally loved is more an observation into someone's life than a full story arc, making the emotion in it all the more visceral and moving. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Not quite perfect, but just about. Oh, and don't watch it with your parents, could get a little awkward.

Have you seen Shame?

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