VENICE, Italy — Loneliness, frustration and an obsession with sex lie at the heart of British director Steve McQueen's powerful new film, "Shame," screening in competition for the Golden Lion award in Venice.
Set in New York, the film is a bleak exploration of a dependence on fleeting sexual encounters and an illusory rapport with the Internet in searching for intimacy in an increasingly dysfunctional and alienated modern society.
German-born Irish actor Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a young executive trapped in a routine of masturbation to Internet porn, one-off sexual encounters and liaisons with whores as he tries to escape a static present.
"I love Brandon, he's not so different from most of us. He's living with all the trappings of the modern world. He's unfamiliar but extraordinarily recognisable," McQueen told journalists ahead of the film's world premiere Sunday.
"This is a man who has access to everything, but his freedom imprisons him."
The film opens with a groundhog day sequence, in which a blue-tinged lens captures Brandon's empty ritual, from nightly prostitutes to masturbation in the shower the morning after -- all to an incessant ticking on the soundtrack.
When his younger sister Sissy -- played by British actress Carey Mulligan -- comes to stay uninvited, her presence heightens Brandon's frustration and he goes on a hedonistic search of ever greater sexual pleasures on the streets.
The tumultuous climax sees him immerse himself in a violent threesome, with graphic close-ups set to highly charged classical music which crescendoes as Brandon ruts, his anguished expression breaking into a soundless cry.
"This film is about politics, our relationships with sex and the Internet. It's about how our lives have been changed by the Internet, how were are losing interactions," Mcqueen said, adding: "We've been tainted, it's unavoidable."
Writer Abi Morgan said she and McQueen had chosen to set the film in New York because of the city's "bleakness and excitement."
"In terms of contemporary cities, it has both the excess and access we were looking for," added McQueen, who made his name as a director with the award-winning "Hunger" in 2008, set in Ireland.
If anything, "Shame" emphasises Brandon's intimacy with the city, following him on journeys on the metro, as he roams dark alleyways and abandoned spaces and in one long continuous shot where he runs through the streets at night.
The title came from McQueen and Morgan's discussions with sex addicts in researching the film, they said.
"Shame: the word kept popping up, it was the one unifying emotion."
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