Shame and Fortune
Shame 2011 UK
Directed by Steve McQueen
Screening at UK cinemas.
Warning: I don’t think there’s really much of anything to spoil in this one but t/read cautiously, just in case! The only spoilers will be the things I tell you which don't happen... as opposed to the things which do.
I guess it’s to be expected that a UK movie, made with UK actors and director, but shot in New York, should wait all this time to get released in its own country. It’s finally out over here, but this movie, which I wanted to see for reasons I’ll explain in a moment, was only playing late night performances at my local... and then only for a week. Way to get behind British movies Cineworld! Not!
Luckily, it’s still playing in London, so I took the trip in to see it.
Now... there were a couple of possible hooks to seeing this movie, but neither of the obvious ones were why I was in the audience for this particular shared experience.
Hook 1 would be the director, Steve McQueen. My only exposure to his work has been a short film which I’ve already forgotten the title of, which I saw playing as part of an art exhibition either at the Tate or the Hayward or the Royal Academy, probably over a decade ago. This is my first real exposure to his work though.
Hook 2 would be, for most people I guess, Michael Fassbender, who I would have to say is a hugely brilliant actor and who has been in a lot off stuff the last few years. He’s a stand up kind of guy (at least that’s how he seems from what I foolishly extrapolate from the myriad of screen roles he’s had) and it’s always a pleasure to see him on screen... however, that’s not why I was here either.
I was here because of my love for the Doctor Who episode Blink and the lead actress of that episode, Carey Mulligan, who has since gone on to conquer Hollywood in roles which I was mostly unaware of, largely because the Marketing campaigns for those movies failed to mention the one thing which was guaranteed to get those movies an audience... SALLY SPARROW FROM BLINK IS IN IT!
Ok... that’s done with. Now you know why I was there for the movie... so let’s get to the confusingly misleading publicity blurb and what the movie is really about.
The publicity blurb would have you believe that this movie is about some kind of voracious sexual addict. Not true. Maybe he seems like he’s got some kind of sexual addiction for audiences who, I don’t know... don’t have much of an interest in sex maybe? Honestly people, if this film is about a sexual addict then I must personally be a Sodom and Gomorrah resurrected upon the earth. Don’t believe the hype. This guy basically just has a healthy sex drive.
This film is more about, I believe, the isolation that this guy suffers from in terms of anything long term in his life. About the only proper relationship this guy has is a non-sexual, pals thing going with his boss at work... a married man who likes to go “on the pull” with Fassbender’s character, Brandon. You know the term “alone in a crowd”? Well, that’s what Brandon’s character is. He seems to be irresistible to the female sex and so he spends most nights in meaningless sexual escapades with multiple partners. Brandon is so isolated from the accoutrements of interpersonal relationships, in fact, that he won’t even take phone calls from his sister, Sissy (played by Carey Mulligan).
Sissy turns up at his apartment unannounced and moves in with him temporarily... which throws a spanner into the ordered workings of his day-to-day routine, especially when his boss ends up doing something/somebody at his apartment which “throws” Brandon emotionally. The film explores the way emotional context starts to screw up Brandons normal working week and it’s interesting to see that the only sexual encounter in which he can’t properly perform is one in which he’s spent a little time on a first date with a woman who starts to give him an emotional hit.
I’d like to tell you more about this movie but... it’s a movie where nothing much happens. This is not to any detriment of the film, I must add. I like movies where nothing much happens and this film in particular is both skillfully directed and uses the highest calibre of actors who turn in quite wonderful and raw performances. I always admire a film that can contain a slow, deliberate and specific atmosphere over a length of time without pushing at the edges of your credibility... and this film maintains that atmosphere in spades. It’s not exactly an intense film, as had been suggested to me by others, but it’s certainly puttering along at its own pace and it’s got some really nice framing in the shots... the visual space sliced up into sections quite often with only a small part of the widescreen being used for any action (if there is any action, like walking from one room to another, at all in a sequence). This is a very European style of filming (at least that’s how I perceive it) going back to Bergman and the like... the most leading proponent of modern US cinema I can think of who still uses that style of direction is Woody Allen, especially in his Bergman-heavy, referential seventies movies. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Shame is very much like an aurally muffled Woody Allen movie... but without the laughs. I hope McQueen himself would be okay with that analogy.
Ultimately though, for the kind of intensity the film hints at trying to play with (it really isn’t in any way a harrowing movie, people) it never really reaches the heights... or should that be depths... that it seems to be initially aiming for and the expected incest scene with Brandon’s sister, which is what I am assuming everyone else was also expecting to happen, never actually rears its head as a possibility in the film. This left me a bit perplexed and in the end I have to conclude that nothing much happens in this movie.
It’s a pleasant and competently made piece of nothing though... with a sure-footed and delicate sensibility from cast and crew and a nicely, almost clinically, melancholic soundtrack culled from a variety of sources and... woohoo, Carey Mulligan, fine actress that she is, gets her kit off! Bonus! Did you hear that Doctor Who fans? SALLY SPARROW IN THE NUDE! DON’T... BLINK!
Ultimately, though, this wouldn’t be a blind recommendation from me. It’s a solitude film for a Sunday afternoon and doesn’t really push any buttons which would go that extra mile into something truly astonishing... but maybe to assume it would want to is just me kind of missing the point. It’s a well crafted, well presented, delightfully performed examination of a man alone who finds solace in the explorations of his own sexuality. You’re either going to love it or just not be moved by it... I don’t think it has enough power in its frames to make anyone truly hate it... and what would be the point?
So there you go. Shame... a nice little film and definitely something you can put on the DVD player as a backdrop to your own thoughts. To see or not to see? That is the question... and I can’t answer it for you. It’s a film which is more about subjective response than ticking off objective boxes... and that’s not a bad thing either.