There were two films released last year that will probably be defined as “groundbreaking,” and neither of them got any attention by the Motion Picture Academy, nor are they easy to sit through for audiences, particularly now. One was Gomorrah, the brutal and spare mafia movie, and the other was Hunger. Painful films in painful times feel like sandpaper on the skin; it isn’t popular to marinate in suffering or high crime – escapism is what audiences and voters wanted. To that end, the “slumdog” striking it rich was far more appealing than the hunger strike of Bobby Sands. If released a couple of years ago, before Obama-mania, before the economic downturn, Hunger would have been a force to reckon with. As it is, though, it will have to go down in history as one of those great art pieces out of time; it will be left untouched and lovely, destined to be re-discovered by future generations.This will likely happen because director Steve McQueen, an astonishing talent, will continue to make great films and as those films are appreciated, so will the earlier ones, specifically this film. Like Citizen Kane and The Killing, for starters, Hunger is going to be one of those films that shows promise out of the gate.McQueen is a visual artist, which informs Hunger frame by frame. He doesn’t just stop there. The film makes all five senses vibrate. The combination of McQueen’s eye, his uncompromised sensibilities and the talent of lead actor Michael Fassbinder, come together to create a film you experience, not idly watch. In fact, you can’t really let it wash over you. Like Gomorrah, it demands your attention.The film’s real problem here, however, is that many of us probably have a hard time relating to Bobby Sands’ plight in the first place. We are a mostly free country and we have rights and privilages we take for granted. To that, ending one’s life at 27, a martyr to a cause, might seem foolish. But to Steve McQueen it most certainly wasn’t; McQueen has said that his childhood memories were shaped by the image of Sands and the nine other men who died after him. The film works better, though, as an artist’s rendering, an exquisite union of director and actor, of cinematography and sound, even if it doesn’t quite give us a reason to really understand the importance of Sands’ actions, if there was importance or not. It just seems very sad. Hunger had a one-week qualifying run for the Oscars (though it was completely ignored) but is arriving in theaters this week. While much of it is available for viewing online, this moving painting must be experienced on a bigger screen. Be warned, however. Hunger is not for the faint of heart.
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