Bernardo Bertolucci, along with co-scenarist Gianni Amico, used Dostoievski's 1846, pre-imprisonment novella The Double: A Petersburg Poem, which they moved to Italy and updated to the pro-Vietcong student-protest present,
Five short stories with contemporary settings. In New York, people are indifferent to derelicts sleeping on sidewalks, to a woman's assault in front of an apartment building, and to a ... See full summary »
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
The original short story is set in London not Rome, the woman hails from Latin America not Africa and the Kinsky character is much older. See more »
[after he gave her a wedding ring that used to belong to his deceased aunt ]
I love you. Marry me.
Let me go!
Please love me. I'd do anything. What do I have to do to make you love me?
You get my husband out of jail!
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I thought this was an extraordinarily beautiful film. The care and complexity of the cinematography was truly breathtaking. The acting was superb as well. I couldn't help feeling, though, that the emotion at the core (Kinsky's "love" of Shandurai) was more an evocation of an older man's (Bertolucci's) fantasy world of women. I found the emotional exploitation of Shandurai unpardonable. Here is a woman who has lost everything, and then gives up her respect and dignity because her employer gets her husband out of jail (the image of her sneaking into his bed, giving herself to him like a servant was belittling). I would have found the film truly bittersweet and empowering had Kinsky sacrificed so much and gained nothing.
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