Monday, December 15, 2008

Hungry for More

I saw Steve McQueen's quite harrowing Hunger today and I think I can go on the record as being "not that impressed". As an artistic endeavour it is definitely worthy, and McQueen does many great things with the material - a near 20-minute long take at the film's heart is both impressive and fascinating - but as a movie I don't think it succeeds. There's one thing to make your film harsh, and considering the tale the film is telling that harshness is necessary, but it's another thing altogether to represent said harshness with no movie-like quality. I'm sure there are some people who enjoy watching scenes of characters painting their prison cell walls with excrement as if it were a documentary, but I guess I'm just not one of them. The poster itself is the epitome of pretentious arthouse wankery. Do people not realise the poster is, quite literally, shit?

The film is, structurally, no more radical than any number of Hollywood biopics. The final scenes of Bobby Sands are horrifying to watch, true, but also awfully pedestrian. Early scenes flip and flop between various characters, as if McQueen was figuring out what area of the issue he wanted to focus on. That Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) was some radical leader is meant to be apparent but it's hardly well-told. He throws some tables around and that's all it takes. It's all very simplistic, which is why the aforementioned long take is so impressive. It's like an excellent short film surrounded by an hour and fifteen minutes of innate prison action.

One thought I had in relation to Hunger though was how the film related to those from Australia. In the ever ongoing saga of what is wrong with our industry (and there is much that is indeed very wrong) one of the issues that keeps being brought up is that all our industry makes are depressing downer films about the scum of society (again, true) that nobody in their right mind would want to associate with (or, at least, those who are going to see arthouse movies would want to associate with) let alone watch a movie about and yet along comes a film like this with it's depressing harsh uber-reality, retched characters and overtly dark and dreary outlook on everything and it gets praised up and up and the cinema is sold out in the middle of a Monday afternoon.

Take a film like Michael Joy's Men's Group, which was very good and equally harrowing in it's portrayal of men on the edge, and yet you would be hard pressed to find an Australian willing to sit through it, and yet a film like Hunger is seen as high art. It's incredibly frustrating and troublesome. Yes, we make far too many dark films, but when there are good ones and we don't support them in preference for foreign titles that don't offer anything more substantial then we're never going to foster talent and encourage our good filmmakers to stay here. If all you need is foreign prestige to have a hit then it's no wonder our filmmaking names head overseas.

Nevermind though, this is about Hunger and no Men's Group or any other Aussie film within that similar aesthetic. I can see the merit within Steve McQueen's film and the acting by Michael Fassbender is adequate and I especially liked Liam Cunningham as Father Moran, but I didn't learn anything that a quick peruse of Wikipedia couldn't tell me and the entire lack of desire to bring an audience into the picture - it felt cold and alienating - is disappointing. C

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