Venice Film Festival Screening: Shame

If Michael Fassbender's roles in X-Men: First Class and Cary Fukunaga's adaptation of Jane Eyre suggested he'd stopped taking risks, then Shame, his second film to screen at the Venice Film Festival, provides shocking evidence to the contrary.

A jolt to the system when seen at a 9am screening on Sunday, the film reunites the German-Irish actor with the British artist Steve McQueen, whose 2008 film Hunger put the actor on audiences' radar, and stunningly launched the artist as a feature director.

It was Fassbender's body that was wasting away as Bobby Sands in Hunger, but it is arguably his character's soul that is atrophying as Brandon, an office worker in Manhattan, whose fastidious outward appearance masks a messy inner life.

Brandon has an insatiable sexual appetite that prostitutes, one-night stands, pornography, and frequent masturbation cannot sate. Yet he seems to have his life in order – at least until his troubled sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), arrives in his apartment unannounced, sending him into a tailspin. Their closeness and physical familiarity, and the way that the nature of their bond is initially withheld, suggest that theirs could once have been more than just a straightforward brother-sister relationship, but McQueen is too subtle a director to spell everything out.

Fassbender and Mulligan dazzle as siblings struggling with their demons in different ways, while the former's descent into a kind of fleshly hell is both shocking and disturbing. Meanwhile, McQueen fulfils the promise of his first feature, and further cements his reputation as probably the UK's most daring director of the moment. 

The film is my tip for the Golden Lion, while Fassbender should collect the festival's acting award.


Originally published in The Scotsman

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