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March 8, 2012 | by  | in Arts Film | [ssba]

Review – Shame

Directed by comtemporary British artist Steve McQueen, Shame is a raw and unsettling picture of sex addiction. The film stars Michael Fassbender as cold, inscrutable Brandon whose isolated life in Manhattan is interrupted by his long absent sister, unimaginatively named Sissy. The spontaneous and wayward sister is Carey Mulligan’s (An Education, Drive) most challenging role yet and she is mesmerising. Sissy is needy where Brandon distant and empty; they are opposites and yet both the broken survivors of a dark past that never needs to be revealed.

Brandon seeks serial sexual encounters of all kinds—paid, with girls from bars, the secretary at work, porn, masturbation, with men—and yet the sex scenes are not passionate but detached. If anything Brandon is asexual. Sissy’s sudden arrival drives them both towards rock bottom, revealed through masterful cinematography and cryptic dialogue. “We’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place” could refer to their shared past, but also points to an empty modern life which encourages, yet frowns upon addiction. Shame forces our addictions to worsen secretly until we reach a point, one which McQueen captures exquisitely as we hear Sissy sobbing on the phone holding a knife as Brandon runs through the city towards her; that point where things cannot get any worse.

McQueen says “art can’t fix anything… it can just observe and portray.” Nevertheless the film suggests shame itself has the potential to heal addiction as Brandon and Sissy’s worst sides are brought to the surface and they are forced to face themselves. It’s painful yet compelling to watch.

[ssba]

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