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Cannes Flashback: Steve McQueen Debuts ‘Hunger’ to Croisette Glory



Steve McQueen never intended to become a director. “I didn’t want to be a filmmaker,” the British visual artist told The News84Media in November 2013. “What led me into wanting to make a film was Bobby Sands.”

Sands, a member of Northern Ireland’s IRA who led fellow prisoners in Belfast on a hunger strike in 1981, was the inspiration for McQueen’s directorial debut, Hunger. The film opened Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section in 2008 and, according to the UK’s Guardian“prompted both applause and walkouts” for its unflinching look at the last days of Sands (played by Michael Fassbender), the brutal treatment of prisoners and their hunger strike and “dirty protest,” which included refusing to bathe and smearing cell walls with feces and blood.

THR called Hunger “violent, bleak and depressing” and noted how Fassbender’s performance, for which he went on a 900-calorie-a-day diet of berries, nuts and sardines, shows “the gruesome effect on a man’s body of completely rejecting nourishment.” Nevertheless, the film earned the Camera d’Or, the fest’s prize for best first feature.

McQueen — who returns to the Croisette this year with the documentary Occupied Cityabout Amsterdam under Nazi control during World War II — said at the time of Hunger: “I want to show what it was like to see, hear, smell and touch in the H-Block in 1981. What I want to convey is something you cannot find in books or archives: the ordinary and extraordinary of life in this prison. . … My intention is to provoke debate in the audience, to challenge our own morality through film.”

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