Wednesday 27 June 2012

Top 20 Films Challenge #14: The Hunger (1983)

Going up and up in our interblogs film challenge alongside Cinemart, at number 14, yet another 80's classic (you would better get used to it), The Hunger by Tony Scott, whose first film it was and who never made a decent film after that.

In The Hunger, millennium old Egyptian vampire Miriam (Catherine Deneuve), feeds on blood and love. She can keep her companions immortal but only as long as she is in love with them...

It is interesting to see how your film tastes develop at such an early age. I saw this when I was 12 and was completely fascinated by it, watching it over and over. It starts off with one of the most best opening scenes I have seen in films, ever! Miriam and her current lover John (David Bowie) go out on the pull in a gothic night club, all in strobe lights, smoke and louche, leather clad revellers, while Bauhaus' Bela Lugosi is dead is playing in the background, and they're eyeing up a pair of new lovers/preys... Here it is in its full glory.

As early as in the 80's, I have always felt that French cinema just did not know what to do with Miss Deneuve. She was such an icon already that she was always given the same kind of parts, which never fully stretched her talent. So it was so refreshing to have her take on such an unusual part. You just have to see her in the opening scene, with her leather mini skirt, her, aherm, interesting leather hat, voraciously tearing off the t-shirt of her new squeeze before slitting his throat and drinking his blood.

But of course, being Catherine Deneuve, she is also full of charm and impossibly chic. And she is rather touching in her neverending quest for love. She spends a lot of the film pensively staring through windows, smoking seductively with floating drapes in the background (don't ask, it was the 80's), all filmed through a lens smeared with vaseline to give it that 80's softporn touch.

Speaking of which, The Hunger is famous for what is probably the best lesbian sex scene (yes, above Mulholland Drive). In it, as Miriam has fallen for a new lover/victim, scientist Sarah (Susan Sarandon). Having invited her in new luxurious New York mansion, the two share some incredibly flirty moments, which give place to the most hilariously corny dialogues of the film:

Sarah: "Are you making a pass at me Mrs Blaylock?"
Miriam: "Miriam..." a line delivered by Catherine Deneuve with such a naughty smile!

And then the two engage in some love making, filmed in soft focus, with some classical music in the background, like an 80's upmarket shower gel advert as if the cameras had carried on rolling and the two female models got a little frisky. Depending on your mood, you might find this the height of naffness or the epitome of glossy 80's chic. I would say it is a mixture of both and that is what makes its charm.

I remember finally being able to see this in the big screen at the National Film Theatre a few years ago and the performance was a disaster. The normally competent arthouse cinema ruined it, with the sound being all over the place, the film breaking no less than five times, and with an audience that was no better. They laughed at all the wrong parts, and especially at the sex scene. There would be a whole post to write about this scenario that has happened one time too many at the NFT recently: film fan takes new, less enlightened squeeze to the screening of an unusual film, new squeeze ruins it for everybody by laughing inappropriately.

Besides, The Hunger is not all about 80's naffness or it would not feature in its list. There is a pervasive sadness throughout the film, and a dark romanticism at its core. I saw the film as a metaphor for the various states of love, that feeling that it will be everlasting at the start and that you are the only two people in the world, and then the tragedy of the feelings slightly ebbing away...

The trailer is hilariously bad, with the very intense, booming trailer voice making it even worse. 

At number 15, Martyn Conterio at Cinemart picked Irreversible by Gaspar Noé, an absolutely fantastic film which got very close to making it to my top 20. I wonder if Martyn and I will have chose at least one film in common? You can read his post here.

At number 13 tomorrow, a rare departure from 80's cinema (do not panic, it will be back at number 12), with a film whose title is the complete opposite of what is actually happening on the screen.

The Hunger. US 1983. Directed by Tony Scott. Starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, Susan Sarandon...

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