Here’s a film we hear a lot of right now because we are right in the “awards season”. Indeed, the film was widely nominated including to the Golden Globe Awards (where it “only” received the Golden Globe for best dramatic film) and to the upcoming Oscars.
I had the chance to see the film at the Premiere and on this occasion Steve Mc Queen said that the book which the film is an adaptation was the American version of the diary of Anne Frank. Thinking back about the movie, one can clearly see the parallel between the concentration camps and the story of the enslavement of Afro Americans, dehumanization, unable to escape his condition, the cruelty of the executioners. The film reminds me of Schindler’s List, including the character of Fassbender is as cruel and has the same unhealthy attraction to his victims than the character of Fiennes. As for films dealing with the Holocaust, the heart of the film is this constant tension, the feeling of helplessness and “discomfort» that takes us throughout the film. And that is its great strength.
The directing is obviously fantastic, Steve Mc Queen gains in power and dares unusual shots that illustrate what he means, with beautiful shots like Terrence Malick would do, or even flash-forwards passing for flashbacks that could be disconcerting for some. Thus, he is very good at displaying the indifference of Solomon then a free man from the North to the condition of slaves in the South, his loneliness, his pain and the cruelty he suffered. The most iconic scene of the film is the long sequence shot where Salomon after having “disobeyed” is hanged feet in the mud. The scene is almost enraging, you are near him and away where it serves almost as an element of the scenery in the most total indifference. We then see how the slaves were treated as objects, and their inability to rebel is frustrating (many people leaving the projection spoke about that). This film is also very frustrating. There is no escape, we must watch it happen and there is a possible way out. We see him going from bad to worse … the “coup de grace” comes with the character of Lupita Nyong’o (who makes her movie debut with this film). This story is real so forget moments of relief; during 2h05 we are stressed. Fassbender is also particularly credible. It is the same for the lead actor of course. They are all nominated to the Oscars. The film hits hard but there are also subtle roles: Cumberbatch character is a slave master respectful but not too brave. The character of Brad Pitt, producer of the film, is not necessarily subtle for that matter.
So, it’s easy to get lost with all these films at the moment dealing with this topic: one thinks immediately about Django Unchained. But here, it’s not for fun, the hero is not super strong and won’t kick the bad guy’s ass. Here, one is forced (and especially if you are American), to watch a not very glorious part of History, and be ashamed of it. Thus, when you finish watching the movie, you don’t necessarily want to watch it again. It doesn’t really stay with you but maybe because it is too disturbing. Perhaps it would be different if I, myself was Afro American. In any case, this film, which, I’m sure, will eventually suffer from its media exposure is one that will consecrate Steve McQueen as a great director of our generation and that will set as an example in his filmography then you will be better not to miss it !