Hunger (15)



Drama (2008)
95mins UK

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Stuart Graham, Liam Cunningham
Director: Steve McQueen
Writer(s): Steve McQueen, Enda Walsh
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Harrowing recreation of the hunger strikes of the early '80s in the Maze Prison just outside of Belfast. Officer Raymond Lohan is part of the team in charge of the infamous H-Blocks. He arrives at work to welcome new inmate Davey Gillen, who joins his republican brothers on the blanket and no-wash protest. Davey shares a cell with fellow non-conformer Gerry Campbell, who introduces his brother in arms to H-Block's leader, Bobby Sands. When violence erupts in the prison and riot police brutalise the inmates, Sands resolves to protest by starving himself to death.

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LondonNet Film Review
Hunger

Turner Prize-winning artist Steve McQueen makes his narrative feature film debut with a harrowing recreation of the hunger strikes of the early '80s in the Maze Prison just outside of Belfast...

Michael Fassbender 'Bobby Sands' and Liam Cunningham 'Father Dominic Moran' meeting prior to Hunger StrikeBased on a screenplay co-written by playwright Enda Walsh, Hunger is distinguished by McQueen's meticulous eye for detail and his steadfast refusal to paint characters as heroes, villains or martyrs. Parallels with Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib are apparent, challenging our morality about the treatment of prisoners. Violence begets more violence and nobody emerges from the melee with a clear conscience.

Filmed in Northern Ireland, the story cuts between figures on both sides of the bars, beginning with prison officer Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham) who is part of the team in charge of the infamous H-Blocks. He arrives at work to welcome new inmate Davey Gillen (Brian Milligan), who joins his republican brothers on the blanket and no-wash protest. Davey shares a cell with fellow non-conformer Gerry Campbell (Liam McMahon), a claustrophobic room with excreta smeared on the walls, maggots wriggling in leftover food. Gerry helps the newcomer to assimilate to life without privileges, including vivid sequences in the visitor's room where one girlfriend extricates contraband from a most unseemly hiding place and passes it under the table to her boyfriend so he can transfer it to an equally eye-watching cranny. At Sunday Mass, we are introduced to H-Block's leader, Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender).

'Raymond Lohan' Stuart Graham and prison officers wash 'Bobby Sands' Michael Fassbender Maze Prison. Steffan Hill +44 (0)7831 553875. Copyright Steffan Hill 2007 (Christopher Hill Photographic)After one particularly vicious encounter with the guards, Bobby resolves to starve himself to death, with other prisoners following suit. A confessional with priest Father Dominic Moran (Liam Cunningham), captured in a bravura, 22-minute, single take conversation, poses difficult questions about the nature of sacrifice. "Putting my life on the line is not just the only thing I can do, it's the right thing," responds the prisoner defiantly.

Hunger is an impressionistic portrait of a time in history when ten men effectively declared war against their own bodies as the ultimate act of defiance against the Thatcher government. It's an immersive and disorienting piece of cinema, awash with haunting images - from the anguish of an inexperienced riot officer crying his eyes out to beg forgiveness for his part in the brutality to the calm of a prisoner's finger chasing a stray fly through window bars. Fassbender is mesmerising, literally wasting away before our tear-filled eyes until every rib threatens to tear through his translucent, ulcerous skin. Swirls of faeces on the walls possess a strange beauty and even a simple, mundane scene like Raymond eating toast lingers in the memory as McQueen's camera focuses on a cascade of breadcrumbs in the guard's napkin. Brief moments of humour, like Bobby joking to the Father about inmates using pages from the Bible as makeshift roll-ups, offer brief respite from gut-wrenching scenes of conflict. Film of the year.

- Kim Hu


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