This week The Criterion Collection unleashed a few films, but none as powerful as the 2008 import, Hunger. Hunger is the most recent IFC film to end up in Criterion’s careful hands. It is also noteworthy that this is the debut film for director Steve McQueen. This release packs a punch with not only an amazing film to tempt your palate, but also a presentation that you would come to expect from Criterion.

Inside The Film

Hunger is one of those films that may be difficult to watch, but commands your attention. Compare it to a film like Schindler’s List and you will know what to expect as far as tone would go. Hunger is a somber film through its core, but beauty shines through every dark crevice. Director Steve McQueen, previously a painter, imposes a strict hand over the viewer with powerful images and sequences that could easily be just as dynamic if they were a single snapshot. Few scenes without dialog make themselves memorable in film, however McQueen composes a visual poetry that flows throughout the first act and build to a crescendo in the third. Make no mistake, McQueen directs this film as if he were a seasoned auteur.

Sandwiched within the film, the story is told with a sixteen and a half minute single shot with Michael Fassbender and  Liam Cunningham. Fassbender portrays Bobby Sands, who garnered international attention as he forced himself to endure a hunger strike in the name of his people and his cause. Cunningham is a priest who simply wants to hear why Sands is willing to give the life of his people and himself. This scene is especially important, because it is the only noticeable extended dialog within the film and surmises the entire plight of Bobby Sands. As mentioned previously, the rest of the film is told in a very powerful, visual manner.

The film is beautiful and poetic, as well as a tale of the power of the human spirit. The film will not find its way on your shelf as a piece of entertainment, it is more like a painting. Like something you’d hang on your wall to find yourself occasionally stopping to look, watch and feel the art in front of your eyes. The film is art at its finest, orchestrated by a composer at his finest in Steve McQueen.

Beyond The Film

This edition of the Criterion Collection takes you into the world of Bobby Sands, providing a making of feature complete with interviews by cast and crew. Also there are two separate interviews with Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender. The interviews take you deep into the minds of both men, and how the true life events of the hunger strikes affected them. To top it all off, there is a 45 minute episode of the BBC program Panorama, which delves deep into the political, historical and possible future details in reference to these hunger strikes. I wouldn’t say that these special features alone make this release a must buy, but you can not imagine that the Criterion Collection could have included much more supplemental features given the fact that McQueen has such a limited history as a filmmaker, Fassbender is an actor really just starting to shape his career, and the hunger strikes took place only almost thirty years ago.

Presentation

Without a doubt, this film is a sensory experience. The film is very visual, and while there isn’t any CGI or glimmering special effects, the film still has a way of using every ounce of resolution the same way that a painter would attempt to extend himself to the borders of his canvas. As mentioned earlier, the film is very bleak. When McQueen has the chance though, he allows color to explode off the screen and creates scenes filled with beauty. Also, since the film features very little dialog, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t expect an auditory experience from Hunger. McQueen states in his interview that he wants the viewer to experience the film, to taste, hear, smell and feel everything within the story. He uses sound to create some discomfort throughout most of the film, and does so with impressive results.

Also From The Criterion Collection This Week

Revanche

Our very own foreign object Rob Hunter exalted this one to one of our 20 Best Foreign Films of The Decade. Hunter put it best when he said “Revenge drama, character study, emotional thriller… Revanche is a powerful film well deserving of the accolades.” Now on to what makes this worthy of Criterion. This release features an “improved” English translation of the film. Many of you may know why this may be important because of another recent travesty of translation in Let The Right One In. I personally don’t know if this translation is necessarily improved, but Criterion does not generally mess up. The release also features the director’s award winning short film, Foreign Land.

Lola Montés

Lola Montès is a visually ravishing, narratively daring dramatization of the life of the notorious courtesan and showgirl, played by Martine Carol. With his customary cinematographic flourish and, for the first time, vibrant color, Max Ophuls charts the course of Montès’s scandalous past through the invocations of the bombastic ringmaster (Peter Ustinov) of the American circus where she has ended up performing. Ophuls’s final film, Lola Montès is at once a magnificent romantic melodrama, a meditation on the lurid fascination with celebrity, and a one-of-a-kind movie spectacle. – Criterion.com

Criterion features include:

  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed stereo soundtrack
  • Audio commentary featuring Max Ophuls scholar Susan White
  • Max Ophuls ou le plaisir de tourner, a 1965 episode of the French television program Cinéastes de notre temps, featuring interviews with many of Ophuls’s collaborators
  • Max by Marcel, a new documentary by Marcel Ophuls about his father and the making of Lola Montès
  • Silent footage of actress Martine Carol demonstrating the various glamorous hairstyles in Lola Montès
  • Theatrical rerelease trailer from Rialto Pictures
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Gary Giddins film info

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