Shame and The Swell Season – like many other film buffs, I have been waiting for these two films for a long time. It’s finally out #YouKnowWhere (twitter code) or the place-that-shall-not-be-named.
Shame is Steven McQueen’s film with Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan in the lead. It premiered at the Venice Film festival where Fassbender bagged the top actors award and also the Fass-boner jokes started because of the explicit display of his monster in the sex scenes. The film made headlines for obvious reasons and most of us have been tracking the film since then.
The Swell Season (TSS) has no connect with Shame. It’s a documentary on the lives of indie musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, stars of the musical indie film, “Once”. It was a tiny film made on a shoestring budget and was shot in just 17 days where the lead stars were non-actors. But the sound was all soul and that thing called chemistry was in abundance between these two unassuming and talented artists . The film got rave reviews and the song “Falling slowly”went on to win the Oscar Award for the Best Original song. And their worlds changed forever.
She was just 18. He was 36. They fell in love. They made some great music and went on musical tours. But their worlds were different. And that bitch called age – love always doesn’t conquer it like they show in films and say in fiction. The Swell Season is the story from the other side of the camera. It captures their post-Oscar journey. Music bought them together, fame separated them – that would be too simplistic way to define their relationship. But a man, a woman and an Oscar makes a difficult threesome.
I saw both the films (Shame & TSS) back to back. And i felt they had lots in common in the way the characters gorgeously bared themselves in both the films – one real, another reel. Nothing dramatic happens in both, but with powerful visuals and ever lasting sound, they sketch stark nude portraits of the leads – both physically and emotionally.
Interestingly, when you watch Shame you will realise how asexual those sex scenes are, in their impact. I am not sure how to dissect it. Is it the sound? Is it the acting? The set-up or the guilt? It never gives you that vicarious pleasure which happens with other films, which is a great achievement in direction. I was underwhelmed with the film but director Steve McQueen is an artist to watch out for (Do watch his previous film Hunger too). The man doesn’t need words, he can do everything with visuals and music. There is a long sequence in a subway – watch it to know what i mean. Aesthetics should be McQueen’s middle name.
Similarly, in The Swell Season, in one scene both Glen and Marketa undress and run naked into the sea. If you have seen Once, you would desperately want the couple to be together. And that feels like a great moment of joy – the couple whom you want to be together, they happily shed all their inhibitions in that moment and you are part of it. Physical inhibition is always the first barrier and the most visible one too. May be that’s why the first time when you see both the lead characters of Shame, they are completely naked. There is nothing left to imagination. And again, it’s not the nudity of pleasure but nudity that gives you intimacy.
I remember reading a great quote by a filmmaker who hates sex scenes in films. I don’t remember his name now but i vaguely remember the quote – in a film when you see two people getting nude and indulging in sex, as an audience, at that moment you forget that they are characters but you see them as actors. Agree. But these two films stands out in this context and proves that it’s possible otherwise too.
Directed by Chris Dapkins, Nick August-Perna and Carlo Mirabella, TSS has a completely non-intrusive approach and is shot in black and white. That automatically adds a bit of romanticism, right? Once and The Swell Season are companion pieces like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. As one of their fans told them after a show, hope you two can make it to the end.
And there’s no “the end”in Shame. In contrast to the B&W, colour has never looked so dark, grey and grim as in Shame.
Both Shame and The Swell Season are honest and brave nude portraits of its characters. Where there is no inhibition and nothing is sacred, that’s a rare cinema genre. Watch it.