There are times when the most important reason to watch a movie is its star or actor. We in India know that only too well. Hundreds of thousands walk into the cinemas to watch Kamal Hassan or Rajnikanth or Salman Khan or Amitabh Bachchan or Aishwarya Rai.
In world cinema, one such actor is Michael Fassbender. At the ongoing Venice International Film Festival, a lot of people went into the press conference for Steve McQueen’s Shame and David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method largely to see one of their star performers, Fassbender.
As noted movie critic Derek Malcolm writes, “One of the best reasons for seeing Hunger, McQueen's debut feature, was the performance of Fassbender as Irish hunger-striker Bobby Sands.
“Fassbender is also a good reason to watch Shame, McQueen's coruscating follow-up, co-written with Abi Morgan, about a sex addict”.
In Shame, Fassbender essays a 30-plus businessman in New York addicted to sex. His life apart from work (what it is is never clear) is a string of sexual encounters that ranges from one-night stands to whoring. When either is not available, he masturbates at home, in the office.
Fassbender is unbelievably different in Shame from what I saw of him in A Dangerous Method, where he plays Sigmund Freud’s understudy, deeply troubled by his attraction for a patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightly). The question of bedding a patient, thus breaking the medical code, and of his being married distress him. In Shame, he allows no such guilt to come in the way of a life that moves on sex, sex and more sex.
Truly an actor, Fassbender is.
Brandon has to apply brakes on his runway libido when his sister, Sissy (portrayed with easy charm and charisma by Carey Mulligan) arrives at his flat and makes herself comfortable. She is suicidal, and somehow manages to bring about a semblance of sanity to Brandon, who perhaps for the first time begins to feel some kind of emotional bonding in his life.
Shame is bold, uncompromisingly so, and McQueen dares to show the sex scenes without hesitation, but the only thing that the film leaves us uncomfortably in the dark is why Brandon finds himself on a road of such obsessive sex. Also, we do not quite know what exactly was the relationship between Sissy and Brandon before she appears in his apartment. There is a hint of shame here, though.
However, few directors have examined such sexual addiction as McQueen does in Shame. But it is never titillating or vulgar, and the helmer never fails to talk about the moral concerns of a life thus led by Brandon.
Shame may not arrive in India unless the promised rating of movies (in place of censorship) through an Act, waiting to be passed by Parliament, happens. The work needs to be seen if not for anything else for Fassbender’s soul-stirring performance.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering the Venice Film Festival for a decade)