TELLURIDE FILM FEST
Telluride Reviews: Steve McQueen's Hunger / Joe Lawlor's Helen
by Alex Billington
August 31, 2008
Two more film from Telluride today and both were an immense let down. I wasn't specifically looking forward to either, but Hunger did win the Camera d'Or at Cannes earlier this year. As for Helen, it was an off-the-wall choice given there wasn't much else that sounded good in that time slot. Both films were lackluster at best with problems aplenty, but certainly festival films. Each one might be called artistic in its own right, but unfortunately didn't have any real entertaining merits or actual filmmaking values. There is one common thread amongst both - the cinematography was exquisite - but that's about it.
Both films completely burned me out, so I've decide to combine my reviews into one short article. I don't have much to say about either them anyway, besides that they weren't that great.
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Telluride Rating: 4 out of 10
Hunger is supposed to tell the story of the last few weeks of the life of Bobby Sands, an Irish republican protester who went on a hunger strike in 1981. The film is incredibly realistic, but not in the least bit actually entertaining. It's dark, depressing, and intense - but that's obviously what McQueen was trying to show. Unfortunately it's a smattering of violence and grotesque images slapped onto a reel without any coherent progressive story. It begins with one of the prison guards and ends with Sands on his death bed. To top it all off, there is an excruciatingly long conversation between Sands and a priest with a 20-minute static shot, which seemed inspired by Tarantino but without any of his brilliant finesse.
If you're a filmmaker researching camera styles and photography, Hunger is a film to look into. But if you're a moviegoer looking for artistic filmmaking, stay far away from it. The cinematography, and realism that McQueen brings to his portrayal of Sands, were the only redeeming values of the entire film. It's hard to say I was bored by this, but it was just as painful to sit and watch as it was for the prisoners who were being beat by the guards. I admire McQueen's attempts to really tell a story quite differently than any other film before it, but he needs to stay away from the experimental realm and stick with the tried and true filmmaking techniques. Hunger is a cinematic mess that no one should be subject to seeing.
Telluride Rating: 6 out of 10
Helen differs from Hunger in that it actually has a coherent story, at least until it ends. The film begins with a promising introduction: a student named Joy goes missing and in an attempt to find her, the police organizes a reconstruction of her last whereabouts - where she walked through a park and into the woods, to never be seen again. Fellow student Helen (Annie Townsend) is recruited to fill in for Joy and gets a little too wrapped up in her role. The visual style that both Lawlor and Molloy bring to this film is undoubtedly unique, and dare I say refreshing, but it grows old very quickly. Even at 79 minutes, the film feels like it's moving through molasses, with slow and truthfully beautiful shots that never zoom and never change.
Like Hunger before it, Helen is another film that can be used as research for beautiful cinematography. But I've quickly discovered that direction is often more important than great visuals, especially when that's all a film has. I might even call this film experimental, simply because it is more of an experiment in Lawlor and Molloy's style applied to a dramatic story than an actual film. Helen really loses its steam when the story hits a dead end and never resolves, like they couldn't write a resolution and just liked everything up until that point. I don't want to spoil it, but there's nothing to spoil, we never find out what happens to who or the importance of nearly any last moment. And I really wish we had, because at the beginning, I was into it.