Monday, October 10, 2011

New York Film Festival Day 4: Shame

The diversity and quality of films I have been able to see so far at the festival has been astounding, the perfect way to begin the Fall and Winter season of films. I've been trying to decide how I would rank these films or how I would even begin to grade them against each other. It's a problem that plagues me until I realize, if I struggle so much with deciding which film is the best, that's a good thing. Having so much quality cinema is a wonderful thing in our crowded world of tween princesses, and Kevin James movies(sorry Mr. James).

Alright enough of that tangent, onto day 4 of the film festival. Today we are looking at Shame, the new film from Steve McQueen, teaming up once again with Michael Fassbender to tell the story of a sex addict in New York whose life is turned upside down with the arrival of his unstable younger sister as a houseguest.

Fassbender was amazing as Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method, but here he is mesmerizing. His performance is easily the best I've seen all year even eclipsing Michael Shannon's brilliant journey into insanity. This is a lived in performance, Fassbender is quickly becoming a major movie star, but here he disappears into this man completely unable to overcome his addiction. When his sister arrives and puts a wrench into his social agenda, we see the frustration grow inside him. Even when she brings a man home to sleep with we se Fassbender get upset and without a word we know he's upset because he's not having sex and she is. When he's on the prowl, he is a predator on the lookout and the way he scopes out his next victim is nothing short of electric. One of the first scenes on a subway train is another wordless wonder of seduction.

Carey Mulligan plays the younger sister, and her arrival is the catalyst that sets Fassbender's journey into the abyss and back again .Like any other addiction, this one overtakes his life and as the movie progresses we see him begin to realize how damaging this addiction is. He is literally impotent when it comes to any possibility of a real relationship and as time goes on his encounters become more explicit and leave him even more empty and frustrated.

McQueen is shaping up to be an amazing filmmaker. He is risky and not afraid to have long stretches with little dialogue, mixed with long scenes of intense dialogue. He shoots New York social life in amber hued bars with beautiful people and clean edges. Then as Fassbender makes his move we always end up in the dirty side of New York up against a wall or in a back alley, with low light and no sense of brightness at all. The one time we go to a hotel, it is all white and gray as emotionless as the encounters Fassbender intends to have.

He also shoots one of the greatest first date sequences put to film. Fassbender perfectly captures the awkwardness of the first date, even for someone as charming and suave as him. There's stilted dialogue, long silences, and an undeniable attraction between the two. Add in the worst waiter in history and McQueen manages to throw in a lighthearted scene into his relatively serious film.

McQueen is able to do so much with simple shot/reverse shot that I forgot how powerful of a technique it is. He portrays so many emotions and intentions with glances and gestures or even inflections and smirks. There is no person a talking, ok cut now person b talks. Everything is for a purpose and has meaning. While this is not the metaphorical tour de force that Melancholia was, this one of the most sophistacated and well crafted adult dramas in recent years. It is a strong tale of addiction with brilliant performances all around. McQueen uses film to tell his story, his imagery is strong and full of emotion. This is a refreshingly original film, much like Hunger was a different kind of prison film, this is an adult drama looking at addiction from a different point of view. Going back to my first paragraph as of now, this is the best film I've seen at the festival.


One last thought(fine two) - Carey Mulligan is amazing as well. Also yes the movie is explicit, and I fear like every other film that garners the NC - 17 rating, all people will talk about is the sex. Now that truly is a Shame...get it?

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