Dying for the cause in Hunger
The Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival opened today with Hunger [+see also:
interview: Laura Hastings-Smith Rob…
interview: Steve McQueen
film profile], the remarkable debut feature by British contemporary artist Steve McQueen. This brilliantly directed, powerful film deals with a historical, political and human subject: the hunger strike that led to the death of Irishman Bobby Sands in 1981.
"Our message is clear,” say the characters. "I’m risking my life because it’s the right thing to do". The setting is Maze prison, Northern Ireland. The IRA republican inmates are trying to recover their status as political prisoners.
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 at the start of the 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 successfully sets out the political and human stakes of the hunger strike with a lengthy and superb dialogue between Sands and a priest (Liam Cunningham).
Above all, the director 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), making him one of the major discoveries of the festival so far. He is a filmmaker to watch closely in the future.
Developed with backing from Film4 and Channel Four, Hunger was produced by British company Blast! Films and co-financed by the Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission and the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland.
(Translated from French)
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