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Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Rory Mullen
There are moments in Hunger when you will be tempted to switch the film off. When members of the Irish Republican Army incarcerated in Northern Ireland's Maze Prison smear cell walls with excrement as part of their 'dirty protest'. When Bobby Sands, who famously died while on hunger strike in the prison in 1981, becomes painfully cadaverous and dotted with ferocious sores. And when prisoners are mercilessly pounded with batons. But leave the television on as Steve McQueen's film is a relentless, haunting and incredibly moving portrait of Irish nationalists demanding political prisoner status from a British government that considered them criminals. The quietly tense drama begins with scenes of protest. McQueen composes some of the film's most withering moments into frames that are almost beautiful, whether its rivers of urine, emptied by prisoners to antagonise jail wardens, flowing down tube-lit corridors or a jailer hosing down a wall patterned with shit. McQueen then zeroes in on Sands, played by Michael Fassbender who delivers a brilliant performance. But this is not a partisan story. McQueen balances Sands's struggle with a long but tightly paced argument between him and a priest opposed to his plan of being the first in a series of hunger strikes. The film also shows sympathy for two jailers. One weeps behind a door, horror struck by the beating he has given a prisoner. Another lives with knuckles bruised by having to punch prisoners into submission and a deep crisis at having to do it daily.
THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI (1920)
Director: Robert Wiene
Cast: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt A remarkable example of German expressionism that should be watched more for its art direction than the story itself. Made in 1919, the silent film unfolds as a flashback recalled by Francis. At the centre is the strange figure of Dr Caligari who travels to fairs to show off Cesare, a somnambulist he has under his control. Francis and his friend Alan attend Caligari's spectacle in which Cesare predicts that Alan will die the next day. When Alan is found murdered the next morning, Francis suspects Caligari. His suspicion is diverted when the police catch a criminal about to commit murder and pin the blame for Francis's killing and a similar murder that had occurred previously on him. But Caligari sends Cesare forth again. This time, to kill Francis's love interest. Unable to kill her, Cesare kidnaps her but then drops her on the way and collapses. Francis approaches a neighbourhood mental asylum for help on how to deal with Caligari when he finds that his nemesis is the director of the institute. It turns out that the director had assumed the name of an eighteenth century Italian called Caligari who could manipulate somnambulists. At the time, the film was seen as a metaphor for a Germany emerging from the ravages of World War I. Caligari was viewed as a manipulative government and Cesare the puppet public. But what continues to fascinate, at a time when its historic subtext is less relevant, are the expressionist sets that have light and shadow painted by Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig. The movie is out on DVD by Enlighten Films.
OUT ON DVD
LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN (1948)
Director: Max Ophüls
Cast: Louis Jourdan, Joan Fontaine Set in turn-of-the-century Vienna, this classic, released in a DVD by Enlighten Films, is a sumptuously sad tale of unrequited love. It's a good, old fashioned melodrama that's saved from being a complete weepie by Max Ophüls's superb direction. Based on a novella by Viennese writer Stefan Zweig, Letter from an Unknown Woman is about Lisa's infatuation with the dashing pianist Stefan Brand. Lisa falls in love with him when she's an ingenuous young girl and he's her new neighbour. But he doesn't notice her till years later when she returns to the city after being away in Linz. She has never stopped loving him and they strike up a short-lived romance before drifting apart. When he sees her years later, she seems familiar but he fails to recognise her. After years of womanising, he can't remember one paramour from the next. And even though she is now married, Lisa can't resist returning to Stefan. Brand is more than just a fickle Casanova. He seems to be searching for some sort of meaning in life but can't tear his attention away from immediate pleasures. Louis Jourdan is wonderful as Brand, who is more boyishly charming than rakish. In the end, a duel offers him a stab at redemption. Joan Fontaine is lovely, first as an ingênue and later as a mature woman still helplessly in love. The film also has some lovely period detail from the gowns Lisa shows off as a model and lamp-lit Vienna to baroque living rooms and romancing in an old fashioned amusement park.
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