Art of the Real 728x90 Film Comment Film Society of Lincoln Center

Short Takes: Shame + Sleeping Beauty

By Laura Kern

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(Steve McQueen, U.K., 2011 + Julia Leigh, Australia, 2011)

Shame

Being a sex addict can be very time-consuming. It can also smother your soul. Just ask Brandon (Michael Fassbender, unconventionally gorgeous), the cipher of an antihero in artist Steve McQueen’s hyped-up sophomore feature. Offered zero backstory, hence very little reason to care, we are dragged into his sordid world. On the surface, he is a put-together corporate type in New York City; underneath he’s a sexual predator, devoid of self-respect and clearly afflicted with deep-rooted psychological problems. His need for sex is inexhaustible (how many orgasms can one guy possibly have?) and he’ll do just about anything to get it. He spends much of the movie baring his fascinatingly well-developed body; his penis is his weapon. There’s lots of graphic sex, yet its depiction is anything but sexy.

Brandon’s existence is a profoundly lonely one, and the only person even remotely close to him is suicidal. His shameful personal habits are disrupted by his equally troubled sister (Carey Mulligan), an uninvited houseguest. If he doesn’t get rid of her quickly, he may just implode.

This artiest of art films is strikingly directed and photographed (by Sean Bobbitt), though it can’t make up for a trite original script (by the director and Abi Morgan). Many may hail Shame as a voyeuristic masterpiece when in fact it’s an empty provocation verging on the ludicrous. Audiences deserve a much bigger payoff in return for being pounded into numbness.

Sleeping Beauty

Being a sex object can be very time-consuming. It can also smother your soul. Just ask Lucy (Emily Browning, unconventionally gorgeous), the cipher of a heroine in novelist Julia Leigh’s hyped-up debut feature. Offered zero backstory, hence very little reason to care, we are dragged into her sordid world. On the surface, she is a put-together college student in Sydney; underneath she’s a sexual plaything, devoid of self-respect and most likely afflicted with deep-rooted psychological problems. Her need for cash is inexhaustible (how many odd jobs can one girl possibly have?) and she’ll do just about anything to get it. She spends much of the movie baring her fascinatingly underdeveloped body; her vagina is her temple. There’s no graphic sex, but its intimations are anything but sexy.

Lucy’s existence is a profoundly lonely one, and the only person even remotely close to her is suicidal. Her shameful professional obligations are disrupted by her desire to find out what goes on when she’s drugged into sleep, a requirement of her most secretive job. If she succeeds, she may just implode.

This artiest of art films is strikingly directed and photographed (by Geoffrey Simpson), though it can’t make up for a trite original script (by the director). Many may hail Sleeping Beauty as a voyeuristic masterpiece when in fact it’s an empty provocation verging on the ludicrous. Audiences deserve a much bigger payoff in return for being lulled into numbness.