a night at the leeds international film festival.
When I first heard that Steve McQueen's newest film, Shame, would be screening at the Leeds International Film Festival, I jumped on the opportunity to get a ticket and even convinced my flatmate, Houssine, to go. The film had its world premiere at the 68th Venice Film Festival and it has had screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival, the BFI London Film Festival, and the New York Film Festival. I’ve heard much about the film since its filming and I was especially excited to finally be able to see this film before it is released in Canada.
The huge banner at Leeds Town Hall
For those of you that aren’t familiar with this film, Shame is drama about Brandon, a 30-something sex addict (played by Michael Fassbender), living in New York. Brandon’s sister, Sissy (played by Carey Mulligan), moves in with him and everything just spirals out of control from there. As mentioned, the film was directed by Steve McQueen, who also co-wrote it with Abi Morgan. This was McQueen and Fassbender’s second collaboration together after working on the acclaimed 2008 film, Hunger. Clearly, the two have developed a strong relationship as they will be collaborating together for a third time on McQueen’s upcoming production, Twelve Years a Slave.
That’s enough of the background, let’s get down to my thoughts on the film. Going into the screening, I had already prepared myself for the amount of nudity in the film, so I can’t say it was superbly shocking. Sure, the film has a ton of sex - straight sex, threesomes, and gay sex - but it definitely was not gratuitous in any way. The sexuality in Shame lets the audience really see how Brandon’s life is falling apart. Add in Sissy’s arrival and Brandon’s regular schedule is interrupted, forcing the further disintegration of his life. The strain between the siblings is obvious, as is the estrangement between them and their family. However, we never find out the reasons behind this and it’s left to the imagination of the audience.
Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Brandon is hands down his best and probably the best performance of the year. It’s raw, bold, and emotional. His portrayal was so powerful and convincing, and it really cements Fassbender as a superb actor. Fassbender did a spectacular job of encapsulating the rampant emotions of Brandon and I really do believe he deserves an Oscar for this role, provided that the Academy doesn’t overlook this film due to its content. I also thought that Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of Sissy was great and it’s definitely far different than other roles that I’ve seen her in like Jenny in An Education and Kathy in Never Let Me Go. Sissy is a simply a mess and it was refreshing to see Mulligan in a role where she isn’t some sort of innocent, young girl.
From what I’ve heard about Hunger, which I haven’t had a chance to see yet, I knew that Shame was going to be a visually stunning film and it certainly was. Steve McQueen is one seriously talented director. I was blown away at how beautiful the film was, from the amazing tracking shot of Michael Fassbender jogging through the Manhattan streets at night to the simple opening shot of Fassbender laying in bed. Gosh, and that scene of Carey Mulligan singing “New York, New York” was fantastic. Although Shame is only McQueen’s second feature film, his background in art films shines through and I couldn’t help but be amazed at how aesthetically pleasing the film was.
All in all, Shame is a magnificent film that should not be missed. It’s much more than a film about sex addiction and if that is the reason holding you back from attending a screening, you’re definitely looking at this film from the wrong perspective. I really do hope that it doesn’t get overlooked because people aren’t comfortable with seeing that much of the naked body on a movie screen. Shame is an intensely beautiful portrait of a troubled man with an addiction, if you must put it simply. It’s unflinching and not the easiest film to sit through, but I guarantee you will not be disappointed when leaving the theatre.