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“Shame” promises an intense study in sexual compulsion – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Hundreds lined up outside the TIFF Bell Lightbox early Monday morning for the chance to screen Steve McQueen’s “Shame,” which recently won Michael Fassbender the Coppa Volpi prize for best actor at the Venice Film Festival.

Fox Searchlight recently acquired the film for distribution and claims it will release it as is (with an NC-17 rating, I believe) without asking McQueen to make cuts to the film’s graphic sex scenes.

I simultaneously applaud the studio’s decision while shaking my head at the realization that such a stance, while vital to McQueen’s vision, likely will prevent more people from seeing the film in the States. And that, pardon the pun, is a shame.

Fassbender’s “Shame” character, Brandon, is a handsome, streamlined shark swimming through the ocean of New York City devouring beautiful chum. Brandon is a sex addict, and he detests any obstacle that stands between him and the act of sexual release. And by “any obstacle,” I certainly mean Sissy (Carey Mulligan), Brandon’s concerned yet slightly needy younger sister who stops in on her sibling but only disrupts his daily routine of satisfying his insatiable hunger for sexual intercourse.

Sex has nothing to do with intimacy for Brandon, and “Shame” isn’t an intimate film, though there are copious amounts of pornographic sex on screen. It sounds filthy on the surface — a late-night plunge through Manhattan’s crevices with a man needing sex the way a diabetic needs steady doses of insulin to survive.

But that analogy rings more true than you’d think, as the pure adrenaline rush of observing “Shame” comes in the meticulous way McQueen injects directly into the intensity of Brandon’s compulsion the way a needle splits the skin and enters a vein. Through Fassbender, I felt Brandon’s hunger. He reminded me of Patrick Bateman, with Fassbender ascending to a level Christian Bale regularly occupies.

McQueen’s storytelling method remains deliberate, a mixture of long, static takes which allow his actors to explore the mood. The difference between “Hunger” and “Shame,” for me, was the presence of a more vibrant playground in New York City, which gives McQueen’s characters more to interact with than a dingy prison cell in Northern Ireland. The attention paid to Manhattan, and its presence as the menu from which Brandon routinely selects, also gave unexpected resonance to the redemptive, healing powers of the dreamer’s anthem, “New York, New York,” which Mulligan delivers in one of the film’s many devastating moments.

“Shame” is for real. It’s rife with sexual tension, yet doesn’t rush the dance, so to speak. McQueen and Fassbender share an intense collaboration marked by raw emotion and graphic sexuality.

Fox Searchlight intends to release the film later this year.

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