I have vague childhood memories of the 1981 Irish hunger strikes, and remember asking my parents some no doubt awkward-for-them questions about what was going on. So Hunger was a film I was excited about seeing in the theater last year. But despite winning awards galore from Cannes and elsewhere, it seemed to come and go in about a week and I missed it. Finally screened it on DVD last night and was very impressed.

Its (rookie!) director is Turner Prize-winning artist Steve McQueen, who’s currently signed up to direct a biopic of Fela.

For what’s essentially a typically stylized art film, Hunger is long on heart and soul, which you could largely credit to some outstanding performances, especially Michael Fassbender, who plays Bobby Sands.

Unsurprisingly, the cinematography and composition owe a lot to McQueen’s intimacy with the history of painting, particularly the scenes inside the excrement-smeared cells, which reminded me of David‘s Death of Marat. And in the beatdown scenes, substituting stale fluorescence for stark chiaroscuro, it’s impossible not to see all the naked unshaven longhairs as so many impassioned Christs out of Caravaggio.

— CL