“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,” writes Jeff Reichert in his review of Steve McQueen’s “Hunger” for indieWIRE. “‘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.”
The film is visual artist Steve McQueen’s debut feature film, is a visually striking account of the hunger strike led by IRA member Bobby Sands from inside a British prison in 1981 to force the government to recognize IRA members as political prisoners.
“Hunger” went on to screen to acclaim at a number of festivals including Telluride and Toronto, where James Israel and Cameron Yates covered a Q&A with the director who described the film as “all about taste, texture, and smell and sound.” indieWIRE’s Peter Knegt reported on a Q&A with McQueen at the 2008 New York Film Festival where the director spoke about his experience working with the film’s star Michael Fassbender, stating that working with his actors was “just a case of conversation” and “getting our minds back to the early ‘80s.”
With the film racking up the European Discovery Award at the 2008 European Film Awards and coming in 17th in indieWIRE’s annual Critics’ Poll, indieWIRE profiled McQueen along with the year’s other most acclaimed directors. On his approach to making the film McQueen said, “What interests me is that everyone from Papua New Guinea to Alaska to Nicaragua knows a story – can tell you a story – but not everyone has been steeped in the idea of Western art. And that really interested me in making feature films – language and story that can actually translate and transcend.”
“Hunger”‘s critical reception has been largely positive. The Village Voice’s J. Hoberman gives the film unqualified praise, saying “I’ve seen ‘Hunger’ three times, and with each screening, the spectacle of violence, suffering, and pain becomes more awful and more awe-inspiring” and the New York Times calls it “a visceral film with a philosophical bent, a meditation on will and endurance, on the human body as the ultimate site of protest.” The New York Observer’s Rex Reed hails it as “a brilliant work of power, maturity and vision that should not be missed” (though he cautions that parts of it may be hard to digest for those without “cast-iron stomachs.”)
One of the more negative reviews of the film comes from the LA Times, which writes “The first-time director’s unflinching camera, deliberate pacing and maddeningly long takes just amplify the story’s innate harshness and test audience endurance levels.” Variety also notes that the “film’s protracted pace and use of long-held shots that seem to go on for minutes…are redolent of video art in galleries…and may test some auds’ patience,” but adds that “McQueen, working with lenser Sean Bobbitt in luscious widescreen, crafts some beautiful and haunting images that evoke the work of other visual artists like Francis Bacon…and achieve moments of visual poetry.”
To mark the release of “Hunger” today, indieWIRE is proud to present this exclusive clip from the film.