British actress Naomie Harris has been nominated for an Oscar for her role as a crack-addicted mother in the 2016 indie drama Moonlight. "No Small Parts" takes a look at some other roles she's played in her career.
Brandon is a 30-something man living in New York who is unable to manage his sex life. After his wayward younger sister moves into his apartment, Brandon's world spirals out of control. Shame examines the nature of need, how we live our lives and the experiences that shape us. Written by
I Want Your Love
Written by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards
Published by Sony/ATV Music Publishing & (c) 1978 Bernard's Other Music (BMI)
All rights on behalf of Bernard's Other Music
administered by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp.
Performed by Chic
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"Shame" centers on Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a lonely, self- alienated man in his thirties who tries his best to appear as your average New Yorker with an office job whenever he finds himself out in public. The trouble with this young man-- or his tragic flaw-- is that whenever he finds a minute of privacy in his day, he hastily delves into his own fabricated reality: a world of excessive sex, pornography, and masturbation. The day Brandon's distressed, disruptive sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) barges into his condo looking for a place to stay until things wind down and her sorrows disappear, his life begins to spiral out of control. He grows increasingly frustrated with her as he feels her invasive presence will bring about the exposure of his deepest and darkest secrets. However, we see that this is just a manifestation of his feelings of intense shame and regret for leading the sad, artificial life he believes is the only one fit for him.
Steve McQueen has the sheer audacity to go where very few filmmakers have dared to go before by making a film about sexual addiction and its effects on the human mind. In this ambitious boldness, he doesn't want to hold back on anything and he isn't afraid to show everything, so the result is a film with enough full nudity and explicit sexual content to receive an R-rating in Canada, which would probably translate to an NC- 17 rating in the US, unfortunately. There are several scenes in the film where you literally see every inch of skin on the bodies of the actors (Fassbender is probably the most physically exposed). Having said that, this is never something that comes across as frivolous and it only enhances the film's shock factor as a whole.
Michael Fassbender delivers the performance of a lifetime in "Shame", and I currently can't see anyone else winning the Oscar for Best Actor at the upcoming Academy Awards. He seems to understand his sad, lonely character just as well as the screenwriters who gave birth to him (Abi Morgan and Steve McQueen). Brandon is his own worst enemy, for he longs to find solace in someone and discover genuine human affection, but the other side of him remains too caught up in a shameful world detached from real feelings and emotions. There are some scenes in the film where we, the audience, are left alone with nothing but his introspective, subdued presence as he reflects upon his actions in regret. These scenes say more than most movies can say within their entirety. It's thanks to Michael Fassbender's pitch-perfect performance that we can step into his character's shoes and get to feel what he's feeling. They say actions speak more than words; with "Shame", acting speaks more than the inclusion of any sort of narration ever would.
Don't worry; I didn't forget about Carey Mulligan! I thought I would highlight her performance separately, too. If I had to say only one thing about it, I would emphasize how amazed I was at seeing her in such an unusual, singular role. She has a tendency to play soft-spoken, prim and proper characters-- but that's not the case with "Shame". She really submerges herself into this disastrous, uncontrollable mess of a young woman who never conceals her deepest feelings to the world-- be it joy or sorrow. There's this one very memorable scene in the film where she sings her own rendition of the jazz standard "New York, New York" in a lounge (she's a singer who does gigs here and there), and for the duration of the song, the camera stays focused on her face. There are no cuts nor camera movements for a good five minutes (of course, this won't come as a big shock to you if you have seen Steve McQueen's "Hunger"), yet somehow, this scene is absolutely mesmerizing-- almost hypnotizing. Just the way she naturally glances about apprehensively as this beautiful voice is unleashed (although it probably isn't hers) is enough to send shivers down your spine.
What can I say about all the other aspects of the film? Well, since Steve McQueen was the man behind the direction and shot composition, it's no big surprise that "Shame" is expertly crafted in every little detail. McQueen used the same cinematographer (Sean Bobbitt) and editor (Joe Walker) of his first feature to achieve the same impressive aesthetic look. Some parts of the film must have required so much time and effort from the editor, it's hard to believe what was accomplished! As for the cinematography, I'm sure you'll be floored by it within the first five minutes of the film. In this opening scene, Brandon finds himself staring at a woman sitting across from him as he is riding the subway. He misunderstands her frightened glances and nervous attempts to display her wedding ring as romantic advances, so when she gets off in a panic at the next stop, he immediately follows her. In one of the most beautiful, gliding shots I've ever witnessed-- with an emotionally shattering musical composition by Harry Escott playing all throughout-- we see Brandon running up the station stairs and looking around for the woman, only to realize that she had run away from him. His failure to comprehend human interactions in this scene already gives us a distinct perception on this poor character's serious vulnerability.
In sum, Steve McQueen's "Shame" is a masterful character study with top- grade performances from Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan and a raw power unmatched by any other film I've seen. This is surely not a film for everyone, as it deals with dark, gritty topics often labeled as far too controversial for the big screen. But if you're open to true cinema, here's a devastating powerhouse of a film that will chill you to the bone and forever stay with you.
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