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,
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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
During the first twenty minutes or so of `Besieged,' directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, there is virtually no dialogue, at least nothing even remotely conversational; and yet the first half hour of the film is almost hypnotically riveting, and by that point you already know more about the two main characters than if they'd had pages worth of words to say. And it's all done with the subtle, controlled emoting of the actors, guided by a director with a keen eye for detail, who knows exactly what he wants, how to get it and how to present it.
This emotionally involving film stars Thandie Newton as Shandurai, a young woman forced to leave South Africa for Rome after her husband, a school teacher, is arrested by the Military Police, then summarily held in prison-- and without a trial-- indefinitely (His crime is never precisely indicated, though it is implied during a classroom scene at the very beginning of the film). In Rome, Shandurai attends medical school, while supporting herself by working as a housekeeper for a man named Mr. Kinsky (David Thewlis), a reclusive pianist, apparently fairly well-to-do, who gives piano lessons to children in his home.
Early on in the film it is evident that Mr. Kinsky looks upon Shandurai as something more than merely a housekeeper; he is obviously quite taken with her. The moral implications of the situation are readily apparent, of course, as is the position in which it will predictably place Shandurai at some point in the near future. There is little doubt as to the direction the story is taking; the question that remains, however, is how Shandurai will deal with her impending dilemma.
The story becomes even more engaging as matters are pressed and circumstances develop which make Shandurai's conundrum even more of a moral miasma. Bertolucci draws his audience in by creating a situation so emotionally complex that at times it fairly resonates on the screen. And rather than allowing it to become simply a test of love and loyalty, he takes it much deeper-- so that the real impact of the film stems from the respective stances taken by Shandurai and Mr. Kinsky, as they strive to resolve their personal feelings while attempting to satisfactorily breach this seemingly insurmountable situation. Bertolucci draws a delicate line on which he balances the emotions, actions and reactions of his characters, which pays off handsomely in the end.
The overall success of the film, however, is predicated upon on thing-- that being the performances of Newton and Thewlis; and both deliver, unequivocally. Newton's role is especially challenging, as she has to convey so much through her emotions alone. Her gestures, expressions and mannerisms are her words; and the slightest alteration of any of these-- the slightest arch of an eyebrow, a shifting of the eyes at a particular moment or a barely discernible movement of her lips-- speaks volumes. And for this to be effective, it had to come from a place deep within; mere surface theatrics or any hint of pretentiousness at any time would have dispelled the believability of the character at once-- and Newton not only prevails, but does so overwhelmingly. It's an extremely well realized portrayal of a woman in conflict, facing one of the greatest trials of her life.
Thewlis, as well, gives a resoundingly sympathetic performance as Mr. Kinsky, that would have to be ranked among the best work he's ever done. As with Newton's role, he must convey so much physically, and he does-- turning in a very sensitive, well defined performance through which he employs just the right amount of reserve and restraint as befits the character he is creating. It's an affecting, honest portrayal that makes Mr. Kinsky very real and believable.
The supporting cast includes Claudio Santamaria, John C. Ojwang, Massimo De Rossi, Cyril Nri, Paul Osul and Veronica Lazar. Artistically rendered and subtle in nuance, `Besieged' explores the parameters of love and measures the limits of the boundaries expressed by the heart. An insightful treatise on human nature, it removes one emotional layer after another, right up to the very end-- which is a moment of truth nothing less than sublime. And one that will keep this film in your memory long after the screen has gone dark. I rate this one 8/10.
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