Column: The Word on Films   |   Date Published: Tuesday, 28 February 12   |   Author: Melissa Wellham   |   5 years, 3 months ago

Shame is a powerful film about addiction. Oh, okay – about sex addiction.

Brandon (Michael Fassbender) lives in isolation in New York. He shuns all intimacy or genuine connection with women, while privately struggling with sex addiction. His affliction barely seems to affect his life, but when his troubled younger sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) comes to stay, his carefully controlled existence begins to unravel.  

Much of the media hype surrounding Shame has been focused on the fact that, yes, you get to see Michael Fassbender’s penis. A lot. But this film has much more to offer than excessive nudity. Indeed, even Fassbender’s admittedly aesthetically pleasing form fails to tantalise or titillate, in the context of his life of loneliness. It is Fassbender’s performance that really makes the film. The fact that he was snubbed for an Oscar nomination says more about the stuffy values of the institution, than how convincing he is in the role.

Director Steve McQueen – who incidentally gave Fassbender his big break in Hunger – has created a taut, beautifully crafted film, which is at times harrowing and haunting. The cinematography is infused with soft, warm light that entrances the audience, even as you wish you could look away.

Shame is not a plot-heavy film, and it runs perhaps slightly overlong, but it’s a thoughtful, subtle character drama. Its strengths lie not where it is explicit; but rather, where the character development is implicit.

Martha Marcy May Marlene:

At the close of Martha, I wasn’t sure exactly what I thought. I knew it was beautiful in terms of cinematography and unsettling in terms of content – but had I liked it?

It’s not exactly enjoyable, per se – watching as fragile Martha’s (Elizabeth Olsen) memories of her time spent in a cult unfold piece by piece, tensely linked to her present reality (staying with her sister, Lucy, who she reunites with after escaping the cult). As Martha recovers from a pretty messed-up couple of years, her erratic behaviour is gradually explained as the film cleverly cuts between her time in the cult and her time spent with Lucy. In comparison to Lucy, Martha seems even stranger – and even though she’s unpredictable and odd, you feel for Martha and what she’s endured.

The cult is extremely interesting, and while disturbing (this escalates as the film progresses) it is well handled and manages to escape being a clichéd depiction (no Nike sneakers here). In fact, it’s all too realistic. Olsen is magnetic - a really great performance.

After more thought, I did like Martha Marcy May Marlene. Director Sean Durkin gives us just enough to think about, teasing us with information and letting us come to our own conclusions about Martha’s mental state and what is actually real. A sad and engaging film, it won’t suit everyone’s tastes but it is certainly unique and compelling.

The Descendants:

Despite starring the ever dashing, dapper and charming George Clooney – this is not a George Clooney-esque film. It’s neither slick nor stylish. Rather, it’s a moving film about how messy life can be.

Directed by Alexander Payne – the creator of SidewaysThe Descendants follows Matt King (George Clooney) an altogether gawky and geeky kind of guy, who is perhaps too wrapped up in his own life to pay much attention to his free-spirited wife (Patricia Hastie), and his 16 and ten-year old daughters, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller). But when his wife is injured in a jet ski accident and falls into a coma, Matt is forced to reexamine his life and reconnect with his family.

The Descendants is humourous, heart-warming, but also tragic. Although the focus of the film might be quite small, the punch the film packs is larger than the sum of its parts. If some directors are auteurs, displaying amazing scope and breadth of vision; then Payne is more a novelist, interested in telling a story, and slowly revealing his characters to the audience.

Ultimately, the film is never quite as deep or as complex as it wants to be. It’s lovely, but The Descendants is certainly nothing new. However, it should be commended for its honesty and authenticity. The minutiae of The Descendants shows life as it really is: a little bit awkward, at times awful, and often beautiful.


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