| CANNES, France
CANNES, France The director of a powerful film
about the final days of Bobby Sands said he had not made a hero
of the IRA prisoner whose death in a 1981 hunger strike made
him one of the most prominent symbols of opposition to British
rule in Northern Ireland.
"Hunger," the graphic, often brutal feature debut by
British artist Steve McQueen, screened at the Cannes film
festival late on Thursday and has impressed critics with its
portrayal of the violence and horror of life in the notorious
Some predicted that the film would prove controversial
because of what they saw as McQueen's sympathetic treatment of
Sands, played by Irish actor Michael Fassbender.
"The sympathetic portrait within this excellent film will
cause much debate, and outrage," wrote the Independent
McQueen said the only controversy surrounding "Hunger" was
one created by the media.
"If anyone comes out of there thinking that I'm thinking
that Bobby Sands is a martyr should basically watch the film
again and look and listen," he told Reuters in an interview.
Sands, convicted of firearms offences, was elected as a
member of the British parliament during his hunger strike,
ensuring worldwide media coverage of his death. His image still
looks down from a giant mural on Belfast's Falls Road.
"In 'Hunger' there is no simplistic notion of 'hero' or
'martyr' or 'victim'," McQueen adds in production notes.
He said the film also portrays other inmates and a prison
guard who is shot dead by the IRA. In a long, central scene,
Sands debates the morality of the hunger strike with a priest.
PARALLELS WITH PRESENT
McQueen, who has won the Turner art prize, drew parallels
between abuses by British authorities in the Maze prison and
the treatment of inmates at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
"The fact of the matter is that history does repeat
itself," said McQueen, who first conceived the idea of making a
film about Sands before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The latter part of "Hunger" portrays what Sands went
through during his 66-day hunger strike that resulted in his
death, aged 27, in 1981.
Close-ups of bed sores and his decaying body are as
difficult to watch as earlier scenes of cell walls smeared in
feces and ritual beatings of inmates by riot police.
Fassbender lost around 15 kg through a strict diet of nuts,
berries and sardines for weeks.
He said he was nervous playing such a controversial figure
from Northern Ireland's recent past.
"It worries me very much," he told Reuters. "It worried me
when I decided to do the project because all my relatives are
up there," added Fassbender, who is from the Republic of
Ireland but whose mother comes from the partitioned North.
"The last thing I want to do is be part of something that
sparks up aggression," he said.
A 1998 peace agreement largely ended 30 years of violence
in the province between minority Catholics seeking a united
Ireland and the pro-British Protestant majority. The conflict
killed more than 3,600 people.
Sands was the first of 10 Maze prisoners to die in the
hunger strike, which they staged in order to win IRA prisoners
Hundreds of prisoners had refused to wear prison clothing
and used only blankets in what became known as the "dirty
protest" because they smeared excrement on their cell walls.
(Editing by Paul Hoskins and Paul Casciato)
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