Monthly Archives: April 2012

Shame

Shame is a feeling that most of us know very well. Now imagine that feeling is so great, it dominates your every waking moment. Steve McQueen’s film Shame, which was released on DVD last week, takes a look at a man whose sexual addiction and shame associated with it have almost completely swallowed his life. This film does not pass judgment; it simply drops in to watch a man struggle with his darkness.

The protagonist, Brandon (Michael Fassbender), is held hostage by his sexual addiction, and has his life perfectly ordered in order to fulfill it. He forgoes personal connections, is emotionally distant and buries himself in his shameful secret. When his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), a lounge singer, drops in unannounced, it throws his life into chaos. Just like Brandon, there appears to be something very wrong with Sissy. She is self destructive and an emotional wreak. Although their past is never addressed in the film, it’s clear that something awful has happened to both of them. There are moments where they seem to get along, but others where Brandon lashes out at Sissy with a terrible anger. The movie is tragic, and it appears as though Brandon’s situation may never improve.

I truly believe that Michael Fassbender should have been recognized by the Academy for this role. While I understand the politics regarding why he was overlooked, it would have been nice to see the Academy take a chance and nominate his riveting, and heartbreaking performance. Carey Mulligan is also good here as Sissy, though the role was a little too confined for her to really shine the way she has in previous films.

I found Steve McQueen’s sympathetic look into the dark, and often misunderstood world of a sex addict refreshing. It’s a controversial topic, indeed, the medical community seems to be split regarding whether sex addiction actually exists. When we do hear about it, sex addiction is all too often sensationalized by media, or winds up at the butt end of jokes. McQueen shows us a different side of a problem that is no laughing matter. Rather than showing Brandon reveling in sex, we are shown that it has become a necessary ritual for him. The camera often gets uncomfortably close to his face during intercourse and orgasm. He doesn’t look happy. In fact, he seems to loathe his actions so much, that he can’t bring himself to have sex with a woman he is genuinely interested in. He pursues sex relentlessly, picking up men and women (sexual preferences don’t seem to matter to him, it’s only the act he is interested in) and risking his job by filling his work desktop with porn. As the film progresses, we watch Brandon fall further into a spiral of self destructive behaviour. At one point in the film he approaches a woman at a bar, and explains in detail the lewd things he wants to do to her. Her boyfriend, who is beside her, confronts Brandon, and beats him up as he is leaving.

Strengths aside, Shame is not without its flaws. This slice of life film moves along at a very slow and methodical pace, which will not be to everyone’s tastes. Although I found the majority of it fascinating, the tail end of the film really drags. Some scenes also teeter on the edge of pretentiousness, such as Sissy’s bizarre, and super slowed rendition of “New York New York”. The scene just barely works, and showcases one of Brandon’s rare scenes of emotional honesty, yet it felt a little too surreal for the rest of the film, and doesn’t quite fit.

While not perfect, Shame is a powerful film. I commend Steve McQueen for an unwavering portrayal of such a controversial and misunderstood subject.

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Crazy 8’s and Story of Burqa

Hello everyone! I’m planning on putting up some fresh reviews this week, but in the meantime I figured I should share two other reviews I completed for Vancouver Weekly.

The first was a review of the Crazy 8’s Screening here in Vancouver at the beginning of April. It was tons of fun and there was some great talent on display.

The second was for a film I just watched last week called Story of Burqa: Case of a Confused Afghan. It’s a very informative, though flawed documentary that looks at the history of the burqa in Afghanistan. It makes it’s debut at this year’s DOXA festival!

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The Virgin Suicides

Combining an achingly beautiful mixture of adolescent awkwardness and tragedy, Sofia Coppola’s feature length directorial debut The Virgin Suicides had me mesmerized. This film has long been on my list of ‘must sees’, and I finally got around to it (thanks Netflix!).

The story takes place in picture perfect suburbia during the 1970’s and opens with the discovery of the attempted suicide of Cecilia Lisbon, the youngest of 5 beautiful, blonde sisters.  The girls are watched and obsessed over by a group of their male classmates who are determined to understand them. The girl’s parents are authoritarian and incredibly religious, keeping them under strict control. They become even more watchful after Cecilia finally manages to kill herself during a party thrown in attempts to socialize her and their other daughters. The second youngest daughter, Lux (Kirten Dunst), begins acting out and when she breaks curfew after her and her sisters are granted the rare opportunity to leave the house to attend the homecoming dance, they are all pulled from school and locked in the house. The girls’ tale comes to an end when they complete what appears to be a suicide pact.

This is an impressive debut, Coppola captures the melancholy pain and timeless joy of adolescence perfectly and particularly demonstrates how keen adolescent sensitivities to injustice can be. Kirstin Dunst is fantastic as Lux, playing the young girl as brooding with a budding sexuality and taste for rebellion. While the boys watch her activities and look for signs of suicidal tendencies, they seem to only see Lux smiling and flirting but we are privy to more private moments. The dull, disappointed look on her face after her various sexual encounters, her moments of silence where we see the sadness in her eyes. Dunst captures the woman trying to break free from the shell of a girl. Lux still enacts girlish rituals (sewing boy’s names to her underwear) but we know there is something more, dark and cynical, boiling beneath the surface.

I also loved the look of this film, which I found quite striking; many of the scenes possessed dream like qualities. The Lisbon girls often look ethereal and never quite real. Their behaviour is also portrayed as if they are one. While Lux acts as their symbol of rebellion, they often act as one unit. There are several scenes where the girls seem eerily conjoined, such as when they listen to music played for them over the telephone, or go to the homecoming dance in the same patterned dress.

One interesting aspect of this film is the perspective through which the story unfolds. Although films are typically presented from a male viewpoint, The Virgin Suicides utilizes the male gaze as a vessel. The film is narrated by a future version of one in a group of young boys who observe the Lisbons and bear witness, becoming obsessed with them and their mysteries. We never get to know the boys well, we simply join them in their watching. They can’t understand and try as they might as they sift through the evidence they have gathered over time, they can’t pull together a complete image of the Lisbon girls. They are constantly aware that something is missing that cannot be told in the physical objects and minutia of everyday life.

In short, if you haven’t seen this movie, snap to it!

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