Last weekend I was able to check out Steven McQeen’s highly acclaimed film Hunger. This is the first feature length film by the Turner prize winner, and it won the Caméra d’Or at Cannes this year. Although a re-examination of a deeply political history and event, I would say that the film itself is not overtly political. McQueen said about the film, “Hero or villain, that’s for other people to decide. For me, it’s one of those situations where I’m a filmmaker, and this is actually what happened in history, this is a true event. For me, this is what happened. I’m not here to judge the situation; I’m here to examine and document it.” I really enjoyed how you were shown the consequences of the inmate’s actions not just on the political level, but on a personal level. It wasn’t purely about the political protest of smearing shit on the walls of the cell, but also about the man who was made to clean the shit off of the walls. Although the content of the film somewhat agonizing to watch on a human level, it was hard to miss how beautifully composed each frame was. At one point we see Sand’s cellmate playing with a fly for several minutes. In other films the attention given to this could be jarring or to slow but it kept with the sense of slowness in the film that focused on the small gestures made by its characters. The film shifts perspective from Sand’s cellmate to Sand’s himself while he endures an excruciating 66-day hunger strike which ends his life. In a 17-minute long single take we see Sand’s discuss his plan for a hunger strike with a minister.
“That ‘Hunger’ forces us to so openly speak about the rigor of its specific filmmaking choices is perhaps the thrust of its value as a work of art, especially in a sea of films and filmmakers that either claim to approach creaky realism via the unplanned moment or efface their creation entirely. ‘Hunger’ is coolly artificial, and openly betrays its creator’s background in the art world—one could almost pull apart specific images (urine flooding from underneath the cell doors of Maze prison steadily joining into a single stream, the repeated superimpositions of birds flying through a grey sky, the constantly exposed flesh of the inmates) and array them on monitors around the walls of a gallery to near similar effect. Yet by narrativizing this collection, McQueen forces a discussion of his own stratagems (as would splitting it into pieces), a discussion that can’t help but mirror the lengthy conversation around methods and message which anchors the film. McQueen’s radical aesthetic and structuring decisions subtly re-politicizes ‘Hunger’ as a work intimately concerned with choices and consequences, the personal and political.”