Shame and Sleeping Beauty

By Anthony Lane
The New Yorker, December 5, 2011

Edited by Andy Ross

Shame hero Brandon (Michael Fassbender), has an office job in New York. The director, Steve McQueen, is a Brit who is drawn to extreme behavior in his characters because he wants to unleash the wildest material that he and his camera can possess and tame.

What propels Brandon is sex. He lives alone, and a quiet night in means hiring a prostitute or hooking up to a remote mate for a video chat. At work, his hard drive is rancid with downloaded filth. His boss David (James Badge Dale) tries to ensnare a blonde at the bar, but it is Brandon whom she fucks later that night.

The result is pure and pitiless. No viewer could be harsher on the uncontrollable Brandon than the director is. At no point is the philanderer permitted to look as if he might be enjoying himself. In one tidal wave of a night, he comes on to a woman in a bar, gets hoofed in the face by her boyfriend, swings by a gay club for a brief encounter (any port in a storm), and then rounds off the evening with a nice warm threesome. His companions, in that climactic bout, are played by DeeDee Luxe and Calamity Chang.

Shame compels attention. Amid its pious devotion to the woebegone, there are scenes that hit a nerve. The wordless subway ride that finds Brandon sitting opposite a young woman is perfect, and if McQueen had stopped there it would have been a poem. Instead, there is a lot of grinding still to come.

Sleeping Beauty, by Australian director Julia Leigh, tells the tale of Lucy (Emily Browning), a student famished for cash. Usually, she turns tricks to boost her income, picking up men in a bar as if they were litter, but she soon enrolls in an escort service. Her duties include waitressing, half nude, at dinners arranged by an exclusive club, and later, for a larger fee, taking a sleeping draught and submitting to the attentions of old white men.

Sleeping Beauty deconstructs the libido as a weapon in the armory of patriarchal oppression, and the voyeurs who prey upon Lucy are repugnant to observe. The movie lingers in the mind because of Emily Browning.
 

Shame

The Sunday Times, January 8, 2012

Edited by Andy Ross

Steve McQueen: "If you want to do it do it. I did it." His 2008 debut movie was Hunger, about the IRA man Bobby Sands. His new movie is Shame, the first film to take sex addiction seriously. McQueen: "Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, whatever, they all have this sense of what's right and what's wrong ... it's just a kind of universal acknowledgment of shame or of being good or bad." Shame deals with guilt and shame without religion. McQueen: "I just do stuff ... I try to make shit happen."
 

Sleeping Beauty

By Dan Kois
Slate, December 2, 2011

Edited by Andy Ross

Sleeping Beauty, director Julia Leigh's assured debut, includes four moments where Lucy (Emily Browning) lets her impassive facade crack: a late-night swim, an embrace with a dying friend, a bikini wax, and an awakening to a kiss. For the rest of the film, Lucy reveals nothing except for her skin. But Leigh is going after something weirder than titillation.

Sleeping Beauty is about power and control. Lucy's lack of money requires her to relinquish control again and again. Lucy answers a want ad, in search of easy cash. A sophisticated madam named Clara (Rachael Blake) employs her to enact the fairy tale of the film's title. Lucy drinks a powerful sleeping draught and lies nude and unconscious in a luxurious bed, while Clara's clients pay for the privilege of doing anything they want to her short of intercourse.

Sleeping Beauty is hard to watch at times. The scenes of a sleeping Lucy can be as scary as in a horror movie. But the pace is stately and deliberate. Leigh shoots long scenes in a single take, the camera panning back and forth slowly, watching the action. Lucy is framed so carefully that the movie edges into portraiture. Those four moments of real emotion wake us up.