Sunday, September 4, 2011

VENICE: "Shame" Reactions

This is doubtlessly the most interesting prospect on the festival circuit this weekend. After Steve McQueen devastated Cannes in 2008 with "Hunger", he's now taking Venice with his follow-up of "Shame". From everything I've heard and seen, it seems like McQueen is preparing himself a trilogy of entrapment. His recently announced "12 Years a Slave" adaptation lets on about as much, and all that's missing in that effort is Fassbender. That's something I can see being remedied in the coming weeks and months, as it clearly should. With Fassbender having played a victimized political soldier, followed by a more self-destructive character, I'd kind of like McQueen to put him on something deliberately antagonistic.

But that's just personal preferences. As for "Shame", I really didn't have any idea of what to expect from the reception. I imagined one of two outcomes, the first being riotous success above even "Hunger". The second, and as it turns out the right one, is about on even ground as his first film, if only a tad behind. I had no expectations of flat-out failure. Reception out of Venice this morning was positive enough, with main concerns being a somewhat soft screenplay. Telluride hopefully should echo that later this morning.. Now it's just a matter of waiting on distribution.

Guy Lodge (In Contention; ***1/2): "Like the finest filmmakers from a fine-arts background, he has a consistently rewarding understanding of the narrative powers of composition: abetted by heaving, tricky sound design and Harry Escott’s counter-intuitively soaring score, "Shame" conjures image upon image of such astonishing beauty that they’d risk stalling the film if not for the spare depth of feeling grounding the whole. The first of these opens the film, with Fassbender sprawled across his bed, his body as unhappily taut and angular as a Francis Bacon subject. He takes up the top half of the screen, a sea of creased cornflower-blue bedsheet filling the remainder: for its dense chain of trysts and dependencies, "Shame" is most powerfully a film of absence."

Oliver Lyttelton (The Playlist; A-): "Fassbender couldn’t be any more different here than in his performance in the Cronenberg film. He’s in virtually every frame, and it’s firmly his film, the steely blue tinge given to New York by DoP Sean Bobbitt (once more doing excellent work) seemingly picked to match and complement the Irish-German actor’s eyes. While he was all stiff repression as Carl Jung, here he’s all id, constantly pursuing some itch that he can never quite scratch. Going by the idea of orgasm as ‘la petite mort,’ a brief taste of nothingness, that seems to be part of the root of Brendan’s promiscuity—when he comes, the pain stops, if only for a second. Fassbender plays him as a man for whom sex has no positive connotations (watch his eyes light up, almost in relief, when he hears someone say, not referring to him “I find you disgusting”); when he does connect with co-worker Marianne (Nicole Beharie), he can’t see it through, unable to link the idea of someone who genuinely likes to what he sees as the violence of sex, and the tension, the division is clear from Fassbender’s performance."

Xan Brooks (The Guardian; **** out of 5): "Shame" feels less formal, less rooted in the language of the art installation than McQueen's previous film, "Hunger", and is all the more satisfying for that. This is fluid, rigorous, serious cinema; the best kind of adult movie. There are glimmers of American Gigolo to its pristine sheen and echoes of Midnight Cowboy to the scratchy, mutual dependence of the damaged duo at the core. For her big showstopper at a downtown nightclub, Sissy takes the stage to croon her way through a haunting, little-girl-lost rendition of New York, New York, slowing the pace and milking the pathos. Brandon sits at the back, his jaw locked, his eyes welling. In the song's melting, dying fall, he catches a glimpse of the lie behind the tinsel and smells the inevitable death of all her dreams, and maybe his dreams as well."

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