Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Possibilities of Horror

Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)
** (Worth Seeing)

Steve McQueen's, a British conceptual/video-projection artist, feature film Hunger concerns are twofold: The horrific 1981 Irish hunger strike and the possibilities of the cinematographic frame. The narrative of film meditates on the minutia of being a captured prisoner and gives attention to those details as it provides little exposition except for short factual intertitles and radio-journalism broadcasts dictating the current political scenario.

The year is 1981, in Northern Ireland Maze Prison a number of Irish Republican and Irish National Liberation Army prisoners go on a hunger strike to regain their status as political prisoners. The film follows an idealizing non-conformist prisoner Davey (Brian Milligan), a courageous prisoner Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), and a mundanely evil prison guard Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham). When Raymond Lohan ultimately visits his catatonic mother he gets assassinated by members of the Irish Republican Army. His silent mother is channeling Margaret Thatcher who refused to arbitrate with Republican prisoners and disallowed their rights.

The film is a purely visual and picturesque experience. To maximize the effect Enda Walsh and Steve McQueen script suppresses the dialogue to the irreducible minimum except for a painstakingly personal, and technical feat, 17 minute long stasis long shot where Bobby Sands is confessing to a priest (Liam Cunningham) his belief in his cause and the morality of the deed. Similar to the American artist-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) the two filmmakers appropriate psychological and physical conditions, nourishment deprivation and locked-in syndrome, and revel in the possibilities to express these individuals subjective point of view through distorting focus, versatile/circular camera movements, and stand-in visuals.

The cinematographer Sean Bobbit flourishes in long shots and close-ups. The prison guard Raymond Lohan allowed a multitude of beautiful scenes. Including the pensive scene where he is composed in a full body shot outside leaning on a white brick wall shrouded by the brightly lit snow. He stands out with his black trousers, light button up shirt and cut knuckles. As well after his anarchistic freshening of prisoners who are participating in the no washing protest there is a close up of his sink routine. The sink contains water used to cool off his wounds and the palette of scene range from sterile colors to blood red after the more severe lashings.

All of these assets make the film well worth its admission.-David Davidson

(Bytowne Cinema, 324 Rideau Street, 01/05-10/05)

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