Thursday, July 15, 2010

#504: Hunger

(Steve McQueen, 2008)

Should every movie be beautiful? Here's what I'm trying to say: making a movie truly beautiful requires the technical skill and artful eye of an objectively talented filmmaker (and/or an objectively brilliant crew, starting with the DP). Simply said, a movie that is beautiful is better made - from a technical perspective - than a movie that is not. But when dealing with narrative film, is there a possibility that a film might be better thematically and emotionally if the movie isn't a technical masterpiece?

In the case of Hunger, I think this question is especially relevant. Director Steve McQueen is a well-known British artist who makes his debut as a director of a conventional narrative here. His talent and eye shine through perhaps more than anything else; this is a strikingly beautiful movie at every moment, almost to the point of distraction. There is literally a wall of shit halfway through the film that is more lovingly shot and artfully presented than most lead actors in your average romantic comedy.

And yet, does the movie's story, of an Irish political prisoner in the early 1980s that chose to go on a hunger strike and literally starve to death in order to have his status as a political prisoner recognized, really allow for such moments of cinematic reflection? Does the beauty of a scene in which prisoners are violated and assaulted add to the shocking emotional impact of the scene or detract from it? It's certainly a combination that is strange enough that I have a hard time fully committing to the film. But the final sequence is just so, so emotional and moving that the film succeeds despite this awkward merging of thematic and technical elements.

There's also the eternally true point that a beautiful movie, no matter how strangely beautiful, is always fun to watch, and despite the disturbing and occasionally depressing moments in the film, it's certainly exhilarating from that perspective. So I'd certainly recommend this film, it's one of the most striking and memorable films of the past few years.

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