BFI London Film Festival 2011: ‘Shame’

It may not be a world or even a European premiere, but the first showing of Hunger (2008) director Steve McQueen’s latest effort Shame (2011) – starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan – looks set to give this year’s BFI London Film Festival a much needed kiss of life (though where this kiss could lead, judging by the film’s highly sexual content is perhaps best left unsaid).

Fassbender plays Brandon, a high-flying businessman in New York City with an insatiably appetite for sex in all its various forms. Perhaps the antithesis of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, Brandon is obsessed with carnal pleasures rather than visceral, though there are certainly some comparisons between the two (both are impeccably turned out, and reside in ultra-modern, clinically sterile apartments).

Brandon’s mechanical consumption of women and pornography is interrupted by the arrival of his troubled younger sister Sissy (Mulligan, giving a very different type of performance than previously seen), who he nearly attacks after mistaking her for an intruder.

Their relationship is strained from the outset – Brandon views her a ‘burden’ on himself and his lifestyle, whilst Sissy has a history of self harming and unsuccessfully reaches out to her older brother for help.

Like Hunger, Shame is a film concerned with obsession and an overpowering devotion to a cause or ideology. For Bobby Sands (Fassbender’s first feature role under McQueen), a ‘no wash’ and consequent hunger strike were sacrifices made in order to gain political status for Irish Republican prisoners; for Shame’s Brandon, his entire life revolves around repeatedly achieving sexual climax, either through intercourse or masturbation. An initially comic scene where Sissy accidentally interrupts her brother masturbating in the bathroom quickly turns sour as his illness manifests itself through violent frustration.

With Shame, McQueen has yet again produced a meticulously framed, beautifully shot arthouse with genuine mainstream appeal, thanks to an engaging story and two superb central performance (Fassbender in particular is good money for his Volpi Cup for Best Actor award at this year’s Venice Film Festival). A slightly predictable narrative shift in the film’s final third is a minor flaw, and shouldn’t be allowed to take too much away from what is one of LFF’s first real big-hitters.

For more BFI London Film Festival 2011 coverage, simply follow this link.

Daniel Green

Trailer courtesy of The Guardian.