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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Near the Tiber river, in a Roman park, a prostitute was killed. The police tracks down people that were inside the park during that night. They are questioned and have to explain why they ... See full summary »
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
What a lovely film this is! I usually do not go for the kind of heavy-handed aestheticism Bertolucci has been partial to in his last few movies ("Stealing Beauty", "Little Buddha", "The Last Emperor" et al.), so imagine my surprise when this movie turned out to be an exquisitely rendered intimate love story. There are basically only two main characters: Jason Kinsky, a reclusive expatriate British pianist in Rome with an uncertain past (played here with great delicacy and understated charm by David Thewlis, in a 180 degree turnabout from the profane misanthrope he played in "Naked"), and Thandie Newton's Shandurai, his African housekeeper, who fled her strife-torn native country to train as a medical doctor in Rome while supporting herself by performing domestic drudgery. The striking, almost wordless opening sequence serves as an introduction to Shandurai's past. Then the camera rapidly cuts to the present day Rome, where already besotted Kinsky orbits around his beautiful and distant housekeeper, not realizing that her nights are tormented by the memory of her husband, a political prisoner left back in Africa. When Kinky approaches Shandurai with a hasty declaration, he is met with a steely and passionate resistance. Chastened, he retreats into a polite distance from the object of his desire. But from then on, nothing goes as expected. For the rest of the movie is about the change in the balance of this relationship, and the singular way through which the capitulation of Shandurai is achieved. The central sacrifice in the story is a grand romantic gesture of Gastbian proportion, simultaneously selfless and selfish.
I was completely enthralled at the way this movie unraveled itself, layer by delicate layer, with little dialogue but with a kaleidoscope of imagery and most of all, with music. Bertolucci is frequently obssessed with his heroine's beauty, and this is no exception. The camera frequently lingers on the gentle curve of Newton's arm, the slope of her back, and on her great dark eyes. However, Bertolucci has for once given us a compelling female character, a woman of determination as well as beauty, unlike his usual bevy of vacuous/self destructive mannequins (e.g. Liv Tyler in "Stealing Beauty", Dominique Sanda in "1900", etc). Shandurai's new-world vigor and her sense of purpose contrast starkly with Kinsky's aimlessness, his solitude, and especially his music, which permeates the movie with exquisite melancholy (the music consists mainly of solo piano pieces by Bach, Chopin, Scrabin and Coltrane). Likewise, the effect of their relationship on Kinsky is expressed most effectively through the transformation in his music, as primitive beats of Africa are blended into the lyricism of Kinsky's composition.
The movie is short, sparse and as different as night and day from the usually action-driven fares of Hollywood. Bertolucci, in a rare form, has fashioned a truly adult film that deftly navigates through the complexities of the human heart.
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