Posted by: Paul | February 5, 2010

Hunger

Just finished watching Hunger, visual artist Steve McQueen’s directorial feature debut, about the IRA “dirty protests” and second wave of hunger strikes – specifically the death of Bobby Sands.

It’s a monumentally disturbing movie, dominated by a famous 17 minute unbroken take where Sands (Michael Fassbender) is confronted about his imminent hunger strike by a priest, played by Liam Cunningham. The scene contains the lion’s share of the film’s dialogue – other long sequences are dominated by images of the corridors of the Maze prison where they were held, at times almost silent. The two men sit opposite each other at a visiting table. They’re from the same side of the Protestant/Catholic divide but far apart in their approach to their struggle for Irish unity.

The sound design of the film is incredible, and has just as much impact and ability to shock as some of the brutal imagery. There’s one particular sequence where riot police are drafted in to intimidate and rough up the prisoners, while the guards subject them to apallingly graphic cavity searches. The beating of the batons on the shields builds to an almost unbearable level, mingling with the screams of the brutalised prisoners, over the sight of one policeman sobbing behind a partition wall, unable to take the violence any longer, while on the other side his colleagues beat a man to within an inch of his life. Not something I’ll forget in a hurry.

McQueen’s artist’s eye is in evidence everywhere here. Lingering close ups of snowflakes which other directors would discard as visual padding only serve to underscore the inhumanity of “The Troubles”, on both sides. The movie is very balanced and does not make judgements on either side, just presents the events themselves. Despite the political subject matter, this is very definitely an “art” movie, and artfully made at that, but at the same time incredibly compelling. I’d recommend it but I found it incredibly hard going at times – not one for the faint hearted.

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