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Blu-ray Review: Hunger (Criterion Collection)

Artistically fantastic, but as a film I was hoping for more

I saw Hunger in the theater but never chose to review it due to what I would describe as a "less than stellar" screening in which my comfort level was down to zero and the screen I was watching it on was hardly up to par. There is something to be said for seeing films on the big screen, but when you're more concerned with comfort than what is projected on screen it is best to wait on forming an opinion.

Yet, with the arrival of Criterion's release of Steve McQueen's Hunger I remain muted in my praise, and am, in fact, disappointed with the supplemental features offered. This is a film, even after seeing it in a much more welcoming environment, I still can't wrap my head around why it enjoyed so much praise. Sure, the acting is superb and McQueen damn near paints a picture with every image including a lengthy one shot that speaks volumes for the cast, headlined by Michael Fassbender, as well as to McQueen's sense of timing. Much of this film is dialogue free outside of one 25-minute chunk in the middle. That's a lot of praise, but when it comes down to the film itself it never draws me in by its narrative as much as it does by its artistry, which is really the reason I'm wishing this Criterion release offered more.

Hunger tells the story of the 1981 hunger strike centering on Bobby Sands (Fassbender), the Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer who led the strike from prison. The act of political defiance was highly controversial and while you would think a filmed version of it would also be looked at as controversial, I can only assume it is McQueen's artistic and, at times, experimental approach to it that allowed it to avoid too much controversy, but some remained.

It gets very dark, and is certain to have an impact on you and isn't a film you will soon forget. But while I see it as an excellent piece of filmed art I just have no interest in watching it again and Criterion doesn't give me much in the way of additional avenues to appreciate it even though I see opportunity.

First off, the features are limited to two interviews (one with McQueen and another with Fassbender), a 13-minute making of featurette and a 1981 episode of BBC's "Panorama" discussing the hunger strike. Inside this you'll learn a lot, including Fassbender's diet which consisted of only berries, nuts and sardines out of the can for dinner over the course of three weeks in order to play the emaciated Sands as the hunger strike continued. However, what's missing is increased access to McQueen and a better understanding of his work as an artist and new feature director.

McQueen is well known in art corners for his minimalist films, some of which are teased through still imagery in his interview piece and all of which would have made an excellent addition to this Blu-ray. Hunger is McQueen's feature directorial debut and he's a director with an established style, but we don't have access to its progression. The content of Hunger is difficult to watch, but at the same time it has moments of true artistry and some of the shots McQueen and his cinematographer Sean Bobbitt put together are fantastic, and I just wish I had a way to better appreciate it considering that's something Criterion is known for doing. Speaking of which, why is there no commentary track?

On Blu-ray, Hunger looks great and its audio track is as impressive as can be expected, but I just don't see this as a title worth buying unless you are already hooked.

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  • http://joker93.livejournal.com Nick

    You put it best, Hunger is great art but it's hardly interesting at all, and as a result, as a film it really came off as pretentious to me, the corridor-washing scene in particular. Greatly filmed and very affecting and memorable only due to Fassbender's performance, not to anything else.

  • andrew

    i understand what you're saying, as i want more access to McQueen as well. i saw this film at the Toronto Film Festival, where McQueen was present. in the Q&A, he came off as clearly a filmmaker/artist who wants the work speak for itself (much like Charlie Kaufman or Spike Jonze). so i wouldn't fault the release of the disc for not getting 'increased access to McQueen.'