Dying for the cause
by Fabien Lemercier
- This Cannes Camera d’Or-winning, magnificently directed and powerful debut film deals with a historical, political and human subject: Irishman Bobby Sands’ fatal hunger strike
Nothing equals the discovery of an outstanding artist who is launching into a new expressive medium. Crowned with the Camera d’Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, where his debut directorial feature Hunger [+see also:
interview: Laura Hastings-Smith Robi…
interview: Steve McQueen
film profile] opened the Un Certain Regard section, UK artist Steve McQueen lived up to his reputation as an international star of contemporary video art. For a true cinematic feat is achieved in this magnificently directed, powerful film about a historical, political and human subject: the hunger strike that led to the death of Irishman Bobby Sands in 1981.
"Our message is clear…. I’m risking my life because it’s the right thing to do": Bobby Sands refuses to eat for 65 days before dying at the age of 27. The setting is H block at Maze prison in Northern Ireland. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) inmates are trying to recover their political prisoner status, which was removed by Margaret Thatcher’s government.
The film looks at the lengthy “no-wash” protest and the hunger strike; the confrontations with prison guards who forcibly disinfect both the men and their cells; the revolt quelled with truncheon blows; the murder of prison guards on the outside; and the strategies used to get messages to the visiting room. Hunger plunges viewers into the harsh, everyday reality of the out-and-out war in prison between British inmates and guards and IRA members in the early 1980s.
This conflict is explored head-on by emerging director McQueen, who doesn’t shy away from brutal images and skilfully interweaves different narrative threads, by first focusing on three characters and then shifting viewers’ attention to the agony of Sands himself (played by a Christ-like Michael Fassbender). Moreover, the filmmaker sets out the political and human stakes of the hunger strike with a lengthy and superb dialogue between Sands and a priest (Liam Cunningham), who tries to persuade him not to put his life on the line.
Above all, McQueen reveals an astonishing command of directorial styles; his approach is both classic and highly original (unusually long scenes, an eye for framing and defining the prison space and beautiful work on the light), making him a major discovery and a filmmaker to watch closely in the future.
Developed with backing from Film4 and Channel Four, Hunger was produced by Blast! Films and co-financed by the Northern Ireland Film & Television Commission (NIFTC) and the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland. The film will be released domestically on October 31 by Pathé and launched in France on November 26 by MK2. International sales were handled by Icon.
(Translated from French)