Venice 2011 Review: Steve McQueen’s SHAME

Steve McQueen presents in Venice his second feature Shame, a journey into one man’s sexual perversions and sickness, starring Michael Fassbender & Carey Mulligan.

Andrea Pasquettin

Contributor

Rating: ★★★★☆

No, Steve McQueen has not come back from the dead to direct this film but it just so happens to be that this immensely talented British director has the same name as the former movie star legend. But with each new feature this London born director is starting to make the name his own.

After winning the 61st Cannes film festival for ‘Best Directorial Debut’ with the extraordinary Hunger, McQueen presents in Venice his second feature Shame, a journey into one man’s perversions and sickness. We follow Brandon, a fairly successful man but who is suffering as a sex addict; nothing is never enough for him and he constantly has this craving to sleep with a woman, either with a prostitute or one night stands with girls he meets in a bar. Even with that he needs to masturbate a few times a day. Michael Fassbender, who was McQueen’s lead in Hunger, incarnates the compulsions, the desires but also the issues of this addiction that turns Brandon into a lonely man. The arrival of his sister, played with real resonance by Carey Mulligan, turns his world upside down, but his addiction grows stronger.

McQueen graphically doesn’t spare any detail of the sexual encounters that Brandon has and the human body, both male and female, is shown in all his natural aspect. Though the film never falls into porn or bad taste, at the same time nothing is withheld from the audience’s eye and the festival crowd get their usual splice of nudity that seems to run throughout these artistic endeavors (usually every other film in Cannes has nudity somewhere). It’s almost presented as a documentary, there’s no hollywood trick that hides nudity. It’s a real drama. We can’t help but feel powerless as members of society while Brandon falls into his spiral of self destruction and not even his sister can help him.

McQueen uses long scenes, very methodically slow paced actions that let the audience observe, absorb and think about what is being shown on the screen. There is no escape, we have to face what is happening, we have to deal with it. He uses music in a intelligent way, leaving many scenes with no dialogue but simple music to sustain the emotion of the moment, even though sometimes it looks like he is trying to force it too much into the film. Sometimes silence is gold.

Brandon is a man that struggles, he is a good man with a problem, even though he doesn’t think it is an issue. Steve McQueen is also an accomplished visual artist and that it is clear by watching Shame; he knows where to place the camera for the best result. Overall the film is a very good drama, with good acting and good storytelling, but sometimes it all becomes too much and we would want to watch somebody else’s life for a while, before going back to Brandon’s path through himself as he tries to change the direction in which his life is going. Is shame enough to change one’s path? Maybe he needs something more.

Shame has a U.K. release set for January.