Lita On Film

Posts Tagged ‘Carey Mulligan’

Shame – NYFF 2011

In Film Reviews on October 14, 2011 at 12:39 am

Steve McQueen’s second feature reprises his collaboration with “Hunger” star Michael Fassbender, and the effect is no less spellbinding. This time, instead of starving for a cause, Fassbender plays a man at the mercy of his urges rather than in control of them: a sex addict.

In the frenetic world of New York City, it’s easy for Fassbender’s Brandon to keep his private life a secret. When a vat of pornography is discovered on his work computer, his boss doesn’t even suspect him and automatically blames an intern. Brandon has a corporate job, no friends, no family and an apartment that can only be described as antiseptic. He lives to indulge his fantasies, flirting with strangers on the subway and participating in live-action internet porn. However, McQueen doesn’t regard Brandon as demented or soulless; just the opposite, he seems to be a romantic at heart, just too screwed up to act like one.

Enter Brandon’s sister (Carey Mulligan) appropriately called Sissy, a hot mess of a singer who’s run out of places to stay. Her arrival disrupts everything Brandon has worked to solidify in his life—suddenly his apartment is dirty, his secrets are spilling out, and he’s forced to interact intimately with another human being. Sissy alludes to their shared upbringing (in Ireland, to explain the accents) without ever giving any details, but it’s clear that she’s just as damaged is he is. She also proves adept at sleeping around and being generally self destructive, which worries Brandon, but not enough to keep him from kicking her out. Several scenes hint at the possibility of incest in Brandon and Sissy’s past and, though this is never fleshed out (and McQueen wouldn’t elaborate during the press conference), there’s a queasiness to their relationship that adds even more tension to the already crackling narrative.

Eventually, after a disastrous attempt at starting a real relationship (with the excellent Nichole Beharie), Brandon is forced to confront his inability to relate to other people unless he’s paying them for sex. This really is the crux of the film, despite its already infamous smorgasbord of nudity and copulation. Brandon craves a release from his inner emptiness, but is unable to form a real relationship with anyone, so meaningless sex is the best he can do. It’s only through catastrophe that he and Sissy are able to break through their mutual alienation and begin the process of becoming normal.

McQueen’s direction is mature and sincere; he doesn’t patronize his characters or his audience, and handles his salacious subject in a completely matter-of-fact way. Fassbender is stoically mesmerizing, and doesn’t become any less credible when his facade finally cracks. Mulligan is, as usual, deceptively mature in her performance; whereas another, lesser starlet could easily cheapen the film by being histrionic, Mulligan manages to convey confusion and desperation in a way that feels raw and uncontrived. Though it’s anything but family friendly (read: do not take your parents!), this is one film every cinephile should put on their must-see list. Let the Oscar buzz begin.

© Lita Robinson 2011

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Malick triumphs at Cannes *updated*

In Film News on May 22, 2011 at 7:13 pm


Terrence Malick’s enigmatic new film “The Tree of Life” has won the Palme D’Or at Cannes.

Starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, the ascetic director’s 5th film in about 30 years has drawn a variety of reactions from festival goers–the only thing everyone seems able to agree on is that it draws distinct parallels with Kubrick’s “2001.”

Malick is known for being incredibly shy, and did not show up for the presentation of the award.  Instead, his producers accepted it for him.  The film will open in limited release in the US this Friday, the 27th.

Jury president Robert De Niro said of Malick’s long-awaited film, “Most of us felt very clearly that it was the movie — the size, the importance, the tension, whatever you want to call it — that seemed to fit the Palme d’Or,” though he also emphasized that the jury was equally impressed with many other films screened at the festival this year.

After Lars Von Trier effectively took his own film, “Melancholia,” out of the running after a Nazi-invoking press conference, Malick’s existential epic was something of a shoo-in for the grand prize.

However, “Melancholia’s” star, Kirsten Dunst, was honored with the Best Actress accolade, and in her acceptance speech she specifically thanked Von Trier himself for helping her to be “…so brave and…so free” in her performance.  Audiences can judge for themselves when the film is released in the US on November 4th.

Best Director went to another Danish director, Nicolas Winding Refn, for his latest film “Drive,” starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan.  The film is an action thriller set in Los Angeles, and quite a departure from Refn’s last film, “Valhalla Rising” (reviewed here!) which was an almost non-verbal Viking epic set almost a thousand years ago.  Refn reportedly described Gosling as “my favorite alter ego.”  “Drive” will be released in the US on September 16th.

Other winners included the Dardenne brothers, who have won an award with every film they’ve ever taken to Cannes, and American Jeff Nichols, whose new film “Take Shelter” won in two different categories (it will be released in the US on October 7th).

For a full list of winners and more inside dirt, see Sunday’s Variety roundup of all the festival awards.  Apparently, Robert De Niro spoke French and accidentally referred to other members of the jury as “champignons” (French for “mushrooms”) instead of “champions.”  Who else wishes they could have attended?!