Cannes Film Festival 2008 reviews: -Steve McQueen’s Hunger by Sukhdev Sandhu


Cannes Film Festival 2008 reviews: Hunger
Steve McQueen’s ‘Hunger’, screening as part of the ‘Un Certain Regard’ category at the Cannes Film Festival

Sukhdev Sandhu reviews two uncompromising films that give new perspectives on raw, recent history at this year’s Cannes Film Festival

“We need to feel that the filmmaker is very aware of the times in which he lives,” announced Sean Penn, head of the Cannes prize jury yesterday.

He certainly got what he was asking for in Hunger by British director Steve McQueen, the artist who hit the headlines recently with his design for a postage stamp that replaced the Queen’s head with the faces of soldiers killed in Iraq.

This is a sensational feature debut, fearless and uncompromising, bolder than any film to come out of the UK in a long time. It takes a slice of recent British history that is in danger of being forgotten by those under 30 and makes it come viscerally, desperately alive.

It plunges viewers into the world of the early 1980s H-Blocks uprising and of republican prisoner Bobby Sands (played with formidable force by Michael Fassbender), who died 66 days into a hunger strike.

The lighting is cold and drear. The sound design bleak. It’s a film – as confrontational as the late Alan Clarke’s Elephant – about extreme, intense spaces: those of Belfast, the jail cells, the psychology of those young men, ghosts in the making.

Turner Prize-winning McQueen’s previous films have mainly been exhibited as installations. Here he makes the transition to the big screen with extraordinary finesse. Hunger, like his gallery works, is riveted by – and riveting about – men, tough men, the way they mirror or defy their physical environments.

Here they turn their bodies into weapons of war. Smearing the walls of their cells with excrement, allowing pools of urine to run out into the corridors, or importing information to and from civilian society using ingested wraps: they make a virtue of their abjection.

The images are both beautiful – the ordure-caked walls resemble canvases, abstracted versions of the murals that lined the streets

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Diane Pernet

A LEGENDARY FIGURE IN FASHION and a pioneer of blogging, Diane is a respected journalist, critic, curator and talent-hunter based in Paris. During her prolific career, she designed her own successful brand in New York, costume designer, photographer, and filmmaker.