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Commentary, Lead Commentary

The Bath Film Festival Day 8

“Shame”

Michael Fassbender (2011’s “X-Men: First Class”) has struck gold again in his second lead role in a film for award-winning director Steve McQueen. Already a choice pick at the Venice and Toronto film festivals, “Shame” has already won many awards.

Director Steve McQueen hired back his old pal Fassbender, whom he also directed in his previous film “Hunger” (2008). (What’s next? “Depression”?) Please be advised this is an erotic drama that will have a limited release in the U.S. due to its NC-17 rating. If raw sex on screen doesn’t faze you, then hunt it out as this is something unique and special to watch.

The premise is basic: Hotshot New Yorker Brandon has a maniacal sex drive, which is suddenly complicated by the arrival of his estranged sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan (of 2010’s “Never Let Me Go”). Beautiful Sissy’s chaotic personality adds to the madness in Brandon’s life, and things start to steadily get out of control.

The arrival of Sissy in Brandon’s life is very unwelcome. Prone to attempting suicide and cutting herself because she gets a kick out of it, she seems to pull him down further into the abyss. One night, she joins her brother and his boss, David (James Badge Dale), and subsequently takes him home to the apartment. Brandon is forced to leave and go for a run when Sissy and David start having sex in the apartment.

It may not sound like much of a plot, but that is also the point as well. This is a film about one man’s struggle with a serious addiction and how he tests the boundaries of it. The result is highly emotive, and McQueen and Fassbender really saturate each scene with that sensation. They take you deeper into Brandon’s psyche than you probably would have wanted to go, which is where the film’s rawness comes from. It almost has a whiff of “American Psycho” (2000) about it but without all the bloody murders.

McQueen uses a lot of long takes from behind glass and at a discreet distance, making the audience feel as though they are a peeping tom prying into Brandon’s private life. We see a very vulnerable side to him as he struggles to control and suppress his addiction. He has frantic encounters with call girls followed by masturbating in the shower. He engages strange women in bars through hard stares of desire and keeps violent porn on both his home and work computers.

If you can survive the sexual nature of the film, then try out “Hunger,” which follows the IRA Hunger Strike in Maze Prison, Ireland, led by Fassbender’s Bobby Sands.

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