When an African dictator jails her husband, Shandurai goes into exile in Italy, studying medicine and keeping house for Mr. Kinsky, an eccentric English pianist and composer. She lives in ...
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Giancarlo De Rosa,
When an African dictator jails her husband, Shandurai goes into exile in Italy, studying medicine and keeping house for Mr. Kinsky, an eccentric English pianist and composer. She lives in one room of his Roman palazzo. He besieges her with flowers, gifts, and music, declaring passionately that he loves her, would go to Africa with her, would do anything for her. "What do you know of Africa?," she asks, then, in anguish, shouts, "Get my husband out of jail!" The rest of the film plays out the implications of this scene and leaves Shandurai with a choice. Written by
A refreshingly beautiful fable of a film from Bernardo Bertolucci
It's refreshing to have a film that has no special effects, does not have to deliver every word, tell you every step of the plot -- the plot line is implied. It is by showing what is happening and letting us the audience connect the frames.
This film "L'assedio" (The Siege) is more visually expressed vs. through articulating dialog. We are presented with scenes, imageries, expressions, wide or high angle shots through perceptive conscious editing. I especially noted the repeats of the beautiful shadow pattern of the spiral railing leafy design -- 'besieged' in a rather elegant environment (perhaps evident to the audience more than to the central character herself). The besiegement is not exactly physical, it is more of the internal emotional dilemma and struggles our heroine feels. We are shown the various artistic collections and beauty of things around the house as we follow her housekeeping routines. She could very well be too wrapped up in her own world (pursuing her medical studies, preparing for exams, and her flashbacks/dreams of homeland events in Africa) and opened herself not to the other person or what's really around her.
The opening sequence is actually a critical flashback for our heroine Shandurai, portrayed by Thandie Newton (w-d John Duigan's "Flirting" 1989; Jonathan Demme's "Beloved" 1998 with Oprah Winfrey). David Thewlis (w-d Mike Leigh's "Naked" 1993; Jean-Jacque Annaud's "Seven Years in Tibet" 1997 as Brad Pitt's adventurous companion) is Mr. Kinsky, the other part of the quotient in this fable like story that Bertolucci interweaved. Shandurai was from Africa and is now a medical student in Rome, staying at Mr. Kinsky's house where she does daily housekeeping chores in exchange for her own room and board.
There is also a "beseeching" undertone to this tale. He (Mr. Kinsky) the solitary composer/pianist in want of her love. She (Shadurai) the solitary soul 'exiled' from home (Africa) in want of the freedom of her loved one. Trust -- a human dilemma? How do you trust a stranger? Does the person really listen to you? Does s/he hear what you're saying?
Trust in another person, a total stranger, is not easy to come by. Society has made it a norm that you have to earn it -- trust. If you say something or make a request, you don't really expect it to come true. That the other person actually listened and took it to heart and do something about it to make a wish happen is only in dreams! Well, whole-hearted loving is possible and we should not take things for granted.
There are no extraneous frames here. Visual and sound (the music, the piano pieces) are both purposefully fulfilling in unraveling the story. Thewlis delivered a superb subtle performance. Newton followed up her "Beloved" role with equal concentration. Bertolucci weaved his magic once again. What a statement -- what a story he has given us! A beautiful film. A fable, indeed.
The wonderful photography (cinematography by Fabio Cianchetti), especially the use of cast shadows reminded me of the silent B/W German classics by Robert Wiene, "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" 1919, in which shadows were used thematically in repeated graphic forms -- very effective filmmaking.
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