Shame (2011)

(On Cable TV, October 2012) Only in so-called “character studies” would twenty minutes of plot be stretched over a total running time of ninety.  Still, let’s not dismiss Shame solely on pains of pacing: As a portrait of a New Yorker struggling with (well, sometimes enjoying) sexual addiction, writer/director Steve McQueen’s film reminds us that there is a place for frank explorations of sexual impulses within adult cinema.  (It proudly received an NC-17 rating.)  Shame is chockablock with nudity and simulated intercourse, but it’s also a melancholic portrait of a lost man refusing to connect in meaningful ways.  Michael Fassbender is magnificent in a brutally naked performance that led to some much-deserved critical acclaim.  It’s not hard to see where Shame could have been tightened into a snappier, more audience-friendly version: as it is, it’s a film best watched while doing meaningless chores.  But McQueen’s choices can be as exhilarating as they are indulgent: for every overlong rendition of “New York, New York”, there’s an absorbing long shot of a nighttime jog, or a conversation exposing the film’s theme in a single uninterrupted shot.  Shame has the qualities of its flaws and some arresting images as well.  It’s an unusual film, and while it may pander to the usual art-house clichés, it also works for those who may resist the kind of aimless, shameless, conclusion-less drama it embraces.  At the very least, it offers a startling revelation: in mainstream cinema, you want to fast-forward through the sex scenes themselves.

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