This film was just in a league of its own. It's funny - my other top rated film from this year's London Film Festival, Like Crazy, is beautiful, and raw, and completely worth its five hunks of cheese. But Shame is just impossibly brilliant. It seems trite to give it the same rating in a way. If Like Crazy were a diamond, then Shame would be a pearl: more exotic, smoother, richer. (I'll stop blabbering in a minute and get talking about the actual film) It just oozes style, and when it's got such a compelling and provocative narrative to anchor it then here is a film you all - every one of you - need to see.
It's a film about sex; desperate, physical, animalistic - sex portrayed as a disease, an addiction, like drugs, or alcohol or gambling. That's not to say it's not a sexy film; there are some scenes which are hypnotic, but as the title suggests this is not a celebration or a joyride in any way. It reminded me a lot of American Psycho: a wealthy businessman, all charm and charisma on the surface, but nursing a dark and disturbing private side. But whilst Patrick Bateman is a psycho, Brandon feels shame.
The film opens with Brandon (Michael Fassbender), troubled and sexually restless on the subway into work, locking eyes with a fellow commuter: a young girl who notices his unwavering attention and is first embarrassed then turned on by him. As she stands to get off the train we - and Brandon - see she has a wedding ring on, but he jumps up to stand by her anyway. He is a man of no limitations or morals, just the need to pursue: like a predator has sniffed out his prey and is hunting it down. Whether she freaks or not is unsaid but she rushes off the train and he loses her in the crowd. It's such a powerful scene, just chemistry and desire emitted over no words. This is a test for Brandon - and he does not even question it. He would have had her if he hadn't lost her. His insatiable lust and slavery to sex is revealed quickly through an addiction to porn and frequent visits to and from prostitutes. Behind all this, his sister (Carey Mulligan) is trying to get in touch with him, but he ignores her until one day he comes home to find her in his apartment. Sissy is erratic and bubbly, and seems every bit as unhinged as Brandon. He agrees she can stay for a while, and the two of them banter affectionately until she sleeps with his boss one night and his rage - at her and himself - explodes, his anger at her intrusion into his life and the expose of what he is to her. She loves him and needs him, but he cannot even accept himself let alone another human being. As the film goes on and he tries to date, he tries to be a brother, we begin to realise just how deeply sick this man is, and can he be saved?
I loved the New York setting and how it's filmed: the soft lighting, the music - all classical jazz piano, the smoke and whiskey bars. It felt very Mad Men esque at times (Fassbender has more than a bit of the Don Draper about him) but yet modern and more brutal. Some of the scenes are shot so intimately - Brandon and Sissy speaking into each other's mouths at certain points, and aggressive nude scenes between them fuelling the tension between them with throbbing undercurrents of the taboo (I thought they'd go there, but they didn't). By far one of the most stunning scenes of the film is Carey Mulligan's acoustic smokey rendition of "New York, New York" at a jazz bar - Brandon's boss entranced, Brandon has tears rolling down his cheeks after some emotional push point is pressed. She sure has a voice on her (where was she keeping that?!) and so much is revealed to the audience about the sibling relationship through that song alone.
Both actors are extraordinary - their best roles to date by miles. Carey Mulligan plays the victim so perfectly, yet with an elegant poise about her regardless. Now I'm beginning to realise what all the excessive praise is for. And Michael Fassbender - who let's face it, is rapidly becoming an A-lister, the actor to have in your movie - is relentless and unpredictable, but his break downs to camera reveal so much pain. His struggle is transparent, and for that reason the audience is pulled to him, a pity and fascination that makes Brandon not completely corrupt. They both have to be nominated to the hills for this joint performance.
Though gorgeous on the eyes, this isn't an easy watch - particularly the last 20 minutes or so of the film, where the drama and the pace is ramped up to 11. This film offers no answers to Brandon's condition - it is a portrait of a man is a dark place whose professional and emotional barrier is beginning to crumble, such is the emotional strain Sissy puts on him, and his inability to enjoy or experience emotional sex - only the cold necessity of the act of it. Yeah... don't go watch this with your parents. The film comes full circle as Brandon, recovering from shocking and scarring events, is back on the subway and locking eyes with the same girl again. Another test. Before we know what will happen, the camera masterfully cuts out.
My favourite film of the festival and one to be in awe of: Shame is mesmerising, unforgiving and one of the best films of the year. Long live British cinema!