The DVD of the Week is, without a doubt, Criterion’s magnificent edition of the 2008 restoration of Max Ophul’s final film, Lola Montes, and I review it here. But along with something old, Criterion has something new, or rather a couple of somethings new, foremost among them Steve McQueen’s unforgettable Hunger (Criterion). Before he went out speaking the king’s as a crisply proper British officer in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Michael Fassbender played Irish Republican Army member Bobby Sands who, at the age of 27, went on a hunger strike in 1981 to protest the British government’s refusal to recognize IRA inmates as political prisoners. British artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen creates a film unlike any traditional biopic or historical drama: an overwhelming visceral experience composed of the sight and sounds and sensations of men in prison, played out as an almost abstract portrait in power and resistance until the film’s sole dialogue, a debate between Sands and a Catholic Priest.
McQueen isn’t taking sides or making political points; in the brutal world of Ireland during the troubles, there’s plenty of reprehensible behavior to go around. Hunger is a study in the deterioration of the human body (we literally watch him waste away on camera) and the will it takes to endure such self-mortification in the name of cause. Available on DVD and Blu-ray, both featuring the tightly focused 13-minute documentary “The Making of Hunger,” bonus video interviews with McQueen and actor Michael Fassbender and a 1981 British TV documentary on the Maze prison hunger strikes, plus a booklet. As a side note, the menus are particularly haunting and unsettling.