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March 23, 2009 | by  | in Film |
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As I write this review, all across the city many people will be enjoying the revelry of the famous Irish holiday that is St Patrick’s day. Strangely, I have just finished watching Hunger, a shattering depiction of Irish Republican Bobby Sands’ infamous 1981 hunger strike. With resurgence in violence in Ireland last week, Hunger seems unsettlingly timely, and serves as a reminder about the extent, and deep-rootedess of division in Ireland—a division we might like to think has been on the wane. Therefore, as much as I would love a Guinness, I just don’t know whether I could drink one now.

Hunger is an astonishing debut feature for artist Steve McQueen. The economy by which he tells the story, and the masterful control he displays over all aspects of the film are exemplary.
Dialogue is sparse in the first half of Hunger, until McQueen delivers the best scene I have seen in any film this year. A blistering single take of a conversation between Sands and a Priest grows into a powerful deliberation on Sands’ decision to strike. For a debut director, from a background in art, I am flabbergasted by the performances McQueen procured in this scene.

Once Sands goes on the strike the film becomes very hard to look at. Not often does a film have the ability to affect in this way without regressing to shock tactics, yet Hunger never panders to this strategy. Though the images we see are undeniably shocking, McQueen’s subtlety is exercised with the precision of a surgeon. It is a rare film that can make the appearance of a fly become a welcome sign of life.

Hunger unrelentingly displays the destruction of the human body, the appalling length at which Sands (and nine others) went to defend their beliefs. You may have noticed by now I have refrained from speaking about the film politically—this is for two reasons. Firstly, because I am not an expert on the subject of the conflict in Ireland, but perhaps more importantly because of Hunger’s emphasis on the human rather than the political. Hunger asks us a far deeper question. Can it really be worth destroying each other to the point that people begin to destroy themselves?

Directed by Steve McQueen
Written by Enda Walsh and Steve McQueen
With Michael Fassbinder, Liam Cunningham, Stuart Graham

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