A year after Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, the theme of slavery is once more revealed through the lens of the film camera, but this time in a forthright, complete and extraordinarily courageous way. The driving force behind this revolution is called Steve McQueen, the director who had already impressed us thanks to two films (Hunger and Shame) that were surprisingly violent in their unrelenting analysis of the dark side of the human mind.
As Steve McQueen has himself explained: in his films one perceives a desire to leave empty spaces at the psychological level of the characters, of their personal and past lives. The audience has the difficult task of filling these gaps, to make sense of the reasons for their actions, to give a face to their anguish and obsessions. In real life, however, we present ourselves to others without revealing everything about ourselves and our intimate lives. Why should the cinema be any different? This is Steve McQueen’s, perhaps drastic, point of view.
His new work, 12 years of Slavery is an extreme film, without compromises, which underscores his ability to talk about sensitive, disturbing subjects without backing down in the face of difficulties and wounds from our past that are still open. In spite of the almost “relaxed” pace of this brutal and cruel odyssey, inspired by the autobiography of Solomon Northup, the account of the years of slavery he endured is, at times, unbearable.
McQueen tackles this sensitive subject with the same ferocious clarity with which he took on the theme of political radicalism in Hunger or again, of sexual dependence in Shame. His technique is undoubtedly radical and the spectator’s experience is, in many respects, traumatic, however, without ever degenerating into over-simplification or scenes of gratuitous violence.
12 years of Slavery recounts an adventure that is both personal and collective: the camera films, without filters, the cruelty of human beings, with a clear desire to demystify, and to look the past straight in the eye, without fear.