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Kritiker-Rezensionen
12 Years a Slave
Steve McQueen USA, 2013
While I think that [McQueen] has a knack for conceptually interesting, installation-type long takes, I think he’s essentially tone-deaf when it comes to performance, and skirts by on casting… Because [the movie] can’t organize that sense of catharsis it so badly needs, it just feels as though McQueen is scurrying for an exit.
April 10, 2015
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There’s so much artistry in this rich, subtle movie. There’s dark humour in Epps’ delusions, as when his crops fail and he claims the slaves are responsible (“Don’t bring no Biblical plagues on him, y’hear?” he warns, passing them off to another master). There’s visual beauty in the shady, humid landscapes, the woods where a slave might stumble across a casual lynching, or a party of Native Americans.
February 10, 2014
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12 Years does not care to showboat; its defining quality is rigour, which it needs to convey real pain. Its formalism is directed at an emotional truth, one that resonates because McQueen is committed to it unflinchingly. This is Solomon Northup’s story. But in its conviction and style, this is very much Steve McQueen’s film.
January 10, 2014
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To plunge us in the corporeal realities of slavery is precisely McQueen’s intention, and it’s debatable that an American filmmaker would be so explicit. Moreover, in a contemporary climate where black bodies are still discussed in depressingly evaluative terms… it’s not as if 12 Years a Slave is a fusty museum piece; rather, it’s an essential addition to an ongoing conversation about the representation of black bodies in the media.
January 07, 2014
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Undeniably, 12 Years a Slave is dramatically compelling, impeccably crafted, and, generally, superbly performed. But much in the way that Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir was engineered to sway the sympathies of its Yankee readership to the abolitionist cause, one suspects the appeal of McQueen and producer-screenwriter John Ridley’s adaptation is owed partly to the manner in which it has been custom-built to curry self-congratulatory favour with contemporary viewers.
December 30, 2013
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12 Years a Slave –- an arthouse exploitation gift to masochistic guilty liberals hungry for history lessons, some of whom consider any treatment of American slavery by a black filmmaker to be an unprecedented event, thus overlooking Charles Burnett’s far superior Nightjohn.
December 05, 2013
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The director’s choreography is so exact that one can imagine a wooden frame around each image, or a proscenium. The effect is akin to a series of moving paintings, or long scenes in an opera or a religious play. The film is pain, transformed into real art, useful art, art that triggers empathy and understanding. It takes Black history, White history and American history out of the past and says, “This is happening right now. To you.”
November 30, 2013
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Our idea of what a “slave movie” is or should be gets coupled with our idea of what a “great movie” should be, and that’s further coupled with our expectations for what makes a movie Oscar-worthy… Steve McQueen is aware of these assumptions, and part of the power of his film derives from his careful acknowledgment and then undermining of those assumptions. The wonder of 12 Years a Slave is that it is, indeed, fully a movie about slavery, a great movie, and an Oscar-worthy movie.
November 13, 2013
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…I wasn’t so much moved when Solomon looks directly into the camera, but somewhat at peace, with nature finally blurred (those disgusting shots of nature rightly ‘beautiful’, disgust with the natural order of things), with Solomon in thought looking at our frame since we can see the actors face without what has been appearing in frame. I was already tearing near the end but when Solomon says, “I apologize for my appearance” I cried.
November 13, 2013
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The tableau of Northup’s near-hanging torture is a masterpiece of staging, and it calls to mind at once Bruegel the Elder’s painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus and the lynching postcards of the post-reconstruction South. But unlike Breughel’s painting, in which the boy’s deadly fall, like most tragedy, takes place virtually unnoticed while the world goes on around it, and unlike the postcards which are more uncanny than horrifying, McQueen puts Northup’s human suffering front and center.
November 09, 2013
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Though the director’s tonal extremity and emphasis on the tested body bode well for hurling the savagery of antebellum plantation life at the audience, McQueen can’t quite escape the lure of a simplified Hollywood narrative, a reality that results in unfortunate soft-peddling, be it in the form of digestible good-bad dichotomies… a barrage of big-name actors, or the distractingly emphatic speaker-busting of Hans Zimmer’s orchestra, which by now has a built-in blood-boiling factor.
November 06, 2013
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12 Years’ points about the system are its greatest assets. That scene of Solomon hanging has been described as a directorial setpiece that’s more about McQueen than Solomon. I vehemently disagree. That scene is society in microcosm, not just the slave society, but ours as well. When that female slave suddenly comes into frame and offers Solomon water at her own risk, it’s a marvelous “fuck the system” shout-out. She’s like an Ebony Florence Nightingale, a ghost who’s gone as quickly as she came.
November 04, 2013
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McQueen shoots this film in that you-are-there fashion, but some of the window dressing (the score, the ungainly attempt at period dialogue) softens the blow. Even so, I have never seen an American or European film on the subject of slavery that was this immersive and this concerned with the visceral moment-to-moment experience of the slave.
November 04, 2013
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A film of pre-ordained importance because of its seemingly frank depiction of slavery, 12 Years a Slave is actually closer to a heightened fable than any profound example of period-piece realism… A staggering sequence involving competing pieces of music is a prime example of the film’s blurred cinematic lines.
October 30, 2013
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[12 Years a Slave] coolly clarifies the United States’ lasting social underpinnings: the seeds of black anger, black self-doubt, black resilience, white supremacy, and white guilt. The director is Steve McQueen, a 44-year-old Englishman. The screenwriter is the American entertainment-industry veteran John Ridley. Both men are black, and the movie they’ve made radically shifts the perspective of the American racial historical drama from the allegorical uplift to the explanatory wallop.
October 24, 2013
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It’s a didactic film in the very best sense of the word, even, dare I say, a Brechtian film. It doesn’t break the fourth wall with a master of ceremonies or call attention to its sketch-like abstraction by undercutting dramatic identification. Rather, McQueen cannily uses, as a virtual framing device, the public’s knowledge regarding the general historical fact of slavery in America and the particular understanding that Northup is a real person whose book conveys actual experience.
October 21, 2013
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If these rhetorical questions—my non-review of 12 Years a Slave, a film that I can neither recommend nor dismiss—serve any purpose, it is to ask whether it is even conceivable to graphically represent the unimaginable without further cheapening the lives one sets out to honor or diminishing the horrors of a monstrous epoch (a query that Claude Lanzmann answers directly, of course, by not including archival footage of concentration camps and other atrocities of the Holocaust in 1985’s Shoah).
October 17, 2013
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This ridiculous dramatic reduction of the slave experience makes the huzzahs the movie is receiving as the ‘first genuine slavery movie’ misguided. Solomon’s own dilemma gets lost in the movie’s concern for the masters’ sick and twisted psychoses. By contrast, the revenge fantasy of Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” proves much closer to the truth of the slave-master equation…
October 17, 2013
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It’s indeed disturbing to watch Ejiofor’s Northup choking underneath the noose placed around his neck by a brutal plantation foreman, but it’s also infuriating in a way that exceeds its narrative function. McQueen may intend the sight of a dangling black man as the centerpiece of his grim historical drama, but it’s actually a symbol of his artistic exhibitionism. Powerful as this image is, it conflates the agony of the character with the bravery of the man unflinching enough to put it onscreen.
October 17, 2013
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This early portion of McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” is a straightforward period piece, but from the moment we first realize that Solomon is imprisoned in a slave pen within sight of the United States Capitol, the film builds its nightmarish, throbbing intensity. This is the story of an institution so toxic, so poisonous, that its tentacles can reach all the way to the Northup family’s apparently idyllic life in the bourgeois comfort of upstate New York…
October 17, 2013
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Any interpretation of the film’s conclusion as victorious or rousing ignores the immediate horror of everything McQueen has shown us. This is a searing indictment in prestige clothing, one whose message isn’t limited to any outmoded system of subjugation, but points toward any society that looks the other way while people suffer anonymously in its midst.
October 17, 2013
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It’s a desperate path and a story that seizes you almost immediately with a visceral force. But Mr. McQueen keeps everything moving so fluidly and efficiently that you’re too busy worrying about Solomon, following him as he travels from auction house to plantation, to linger long in the emotions and ideas that the movie churns up.
October 17, 2013
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Whether it actually works to polemically link past and present in either thoughtful or galvanizing ways is unclear to me, but as a briskly overstuffed narrative it’s aces, ending with the affecting, universal image of a traumatized traveler unexpectedly delivered home, as yet unable to process what’s happened.
October 17, 2013
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There’s no reason a movie dealing with an ugly subject should be ugly itself. And thereis an upside to that remoteness: McQueen isn’t out to punish or scold us with his filmmaking. Northup’s story is anguishing, and McQueen seeks only to tell it; he knows there’s no need to bludgeon us. But compared with Lee Daniels’s The Butler, a movie about another angle of the African-American experience, 12 Years a Slave is buffed to a dry, prestigious sheen.
October 16, 2013
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There’s a moment near the end of 12 Years a Slave where Ejiofor glances away from the horizon and directly into the camera; the look in his eyes conveys a legacy of anguish and several generations’ will to survive. More than a century has passed since the events depicted onscreen. Yet in that second, as you sift through your own feelings of sorrow and rage, the movie does not feel like it’s about the past at all.
October 14, 2013
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McQueen’s gift for capping his most brutal moments—including Solomon’s first beating—with quiet reveals (bloodied smocks, shredded black flesh) coagulates their power without feeling like cheap punctuation. But if you embrace 12 Years A Slave as a kind of Oscar-season pipe bomb—which I choose to do, as McQueen claims he chose to make a film on slavery first, then began reading about Northrup—its politics are sadly compromised by the appearance of Brad Pitt.
October 09, 2013
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Straightforward in its storytelling and therefore a relentless, visceral experience, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave—presented here by Film Comment—tackles America’s ugly heritage of human bondage as a harrowing first-person experience without being couched in melodrama (Roots), exploitation (Mandingo) or flat-out insincerity (Django Unchained).
September 25, 2013
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…That flash of emotional intensity is scarce in 12 Years a Slave, because McQueen, as is his wont, is largely content to craft images and sounds that strongly convey atmosphere and evoke great horrors, but are less visualizations of human feeling than artistic posturing… McQueen indulges lightly in flashbacks throughout, but the juxtapositions he creates between the horrors of Solomon’s present and the freedom of his past feel emotionally disingenuous.
September 13, 2013
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I entered the film skeptical, and although it is in many ways uneven and still falls victim to some of McQueen’s nasty habits, for the most part it’s dramatically compelling, beautifully acted, and visually and aurally sophisticated. McQueen’s distinct style finally finds itself intricately interwoven with a narrative instead of feeling like a separately operating force.
September 10, 2013
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In one striking, long take of Ejiofor’s face up close, his expression is virtually impenetrable, but there may be the tiniest phantom glimmer of renewed hope in his eyes… Lost in thought, Platt looks confused and hesitant by the rekindled optimism. The amorphous nature of his torn expression and the serene, static atmosphere of this long take encapsulate McQueen’s refined, subtle cinema, in which the hint of an incipient, microscopic feeling connotes an entire spectrum of meaning and emotion.
September 09, 2013
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Marred by a few distracting cameos and an overwrought Hans Zimmer score that, at least on first listen, sounds almost identical to the Shame score, this is nevertheless a powerful, vividly rendered film, with a depiction of slavery that’s less expansive but more stark than that seen in the Boschian atmospherics of Richard Fleischer’s Mandingo (1975) or Tarantino’s movie-ized Django Unchained (2012).
September 07, 2013
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To call the movie a knockout is insufficient: director Steve McQueen retains the oppressive moodiness of his Shame and Hunger… and funnels everything into a conventional structure that delivers him to the top rank of storytellers. Too much gush? You haven’t sat in this drama’s thrall, heard the sobs and screams around you, and known that an archetypal classic was being born. You will.
September 07, 2013
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