61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging Performances by Newton and Thewlis
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...
Published on May 21, 2001 by Reviewer
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Return to Form
Based on a short story with a simple, low-key situation, BESIEGED is Bernardo Bertolucci's best film in years, which admittedly doesn't say much. Although one of the most important filmmakers of his generation, Bertolucci hasn't had a fully realized success since THE LAST EMPEROR, and even that was a trifle over-weight. Here, shorn of the laborious effort to amaze,...
Published on September 30, 2000 by Charles S. Tashiro
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61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging Performances by Newton and Thewlis,
This review is from: Besieged (DVD)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.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mesmerising account of romantic endangerment,
This review is from: Besieged (DVD)Bernardo Bertolucci (Academy Award winner for "Last Emperor") presents here a lovingly crafted, sensuous and meticulous drama of romantic conflict. Thandie Newton portrays an African refugee in Rome, a medical student and live-in cleaner for an eccentric English pianist (David Thwelis.) She rebuffs him when he makes overtures to her, only to discover that he selflessly devoted himself to bribing his way by pawning his possessions (including his treasured piano) so as to guarantee the freedom of her husband, imprisoned by her country's repressive regime. The serene tale unfolds with a quiet sensitivity to its conclusion. The understatement of the treatment, as opposed to the melodrama of mainstream films dealing with such issues, is nothing short of masterful. The uses of silence, visual metaphor and piano solos, besides hinting at the psychological inner worlds of the characters, set the pace of the film: there is no preaching, but only suggestion. This is not a film for a mass audience, who may regard it as heavygoing, but a literary work of the Henry James stamp seamlessly transposed into film. The minimal dialogue invites the criticism that the director may have no ear for the language, but the terse, static exchanges have an almost monumental power. The photography is outstandingly atmospheric and the performances are first-rate.
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a lyric tale of two exiles,
This review is from: Besieged (DVD)Music is the center of Thewlis' world and it is the center of the movie. You'll appreciate your sound system during this film because it is made up of music rather than dialogue or stunning visuals. Although Thandie Newton is certainly a stunning visual.This movie stands out because it is so absolutely like no other, not even Bertolucci's previous efforts prepare you for it. Thewlis(you might remember from Naked)plays the decadent westerner(all Bertolucci lead roles are that)we are asked to pay attention to. Thewlis does not demand you pay attention like Brando does rather he is so quiet and mysterious you can't help but pay attention. Only when he plays piano do you find out how much is going on within him. And what music(the piano is the third major presence in this movie). Thewliss and Newton come from different sides of the world and neither is perhaps very satisfied with the place from whence they come, both exiles, and each is very curious about the other. Many times the camera is on one at a time while each wonders about the other in the next room. It doesn't sound like much but it is drama of a very peculiar sort. Two humans,two cultures perhaps, slowly coming into contact. Very strange and very powerful movie. You may as well order the soundtrack too.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly intelligent love story,
This review is from: Besieged (DVD)The title of Bertolucci's Besieged is a subtle reference to both main characters--Thandie Newton's Shandurai and David Thewlis' Mr. Kinsky. The former, an African emigre now living in Rome, is both a medical student and Mr. Kinsky's housekeeper. Her state of "besiegement" is the situation of living in Kinsky's confining environment--confining principally because of the owner's emotional isolation, and simultaneously of her husband having been arrested in her native country; she is besieged by exposure to a foreign culture, by forces previously unknown to her.
Kinsky's besiegement is, as mentioned above, his emotional isolation. He keeps himself inside his house and is rarely seen venturing outside. Only after he professes his passion for his housekeeper and realizes that he must do more than verbalize his feelings does he break the confines of his physical surroundings and leave the barriers he has besieged himself with.
Kinsky, a composer and pianist, is initially seen playing standard Western classical music, but as he becomes more enamored with Shandurai, the rhythms of her African music begin to influence his own compositions. In a beautiful scene, a session at his piano begins with a simple two-note structure and ultimately results in a piece that fervently echoes the hypnotic, percussive feel of the songs she listens to on her cassette player in her downstairs apartment.
Kinsky's intensity throughout, paralleled with Shandurai's combined intelligence and semi-bewilderment are what gives this work its resonance. This is a truly memorable film, one worth seeing repeatedly.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply put, this is an excellent movie.,
By A Customer
This review is from: Besieged [VHS] (VHS Tape)Perhaps Bertolucci's best effort to date. The film succeeds in character development with fascinating dialogue. The acting is first rate and the story is wonderful. In addition to the excellent cinematography Alessio Vlad has provided a terrific musical composition performed by Stefano Arnaldi that seem perfectly well suited for the movie.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Besieged Is Bertolucci At His Most Beautiful!,
This review is from: Besieged (DVD)This is his best film since Last Tango In Paris. It is a wonderful love story set first in Africa and then in Europe, between an English pianist-composer and an African medical student. This movie shows rather than tells; everything is done visually with a minimum of dialogue and a wonderful accompanying soundtrack. Both actors, even though normally outstanding, exceed even their own best work in this performance. The hero-pianist, Thewlis, is perfection in his understanding of self sacrifice for the one you love.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thandie Newton is Very Good but David Thewlis is Great,
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This review is from: Besieged (DVD)This Bernardo Bertolucci film, almost by definition, was bound to have beautiful cinematography and an interesting story. Why the distributor felt the need to use an endorsement of the movie as "Erotic" by a USA Today film critic is mystifying. You will wonder if you watched the same movie. You may even wonder if he watched the movie at all or just assumed it would be erotic because Bertolucci's name is on the film.
Regardless, this is a very good movie about two people from two very different cultures with very different personalities and views of life who find common ground in very compelling circumstances. Thandie Newton, as Shandurai, shows quite a nice range as an African political exile in a role radically different from her role in "Crash." Her accent is impeccable and her carriage and manner are earthy and lush.
As a native of an unnamed African country she is in the main town while the country's new dictator's picture poster, dark glasses and military uniform, is being plastered on all of the local town's walls. She arrives at the school on the outskirts of town and must watch helplessly as her husband is arbitrarily arrested while teaching a class of children. The movie falters in its tempo after Newton's husband is arrested.
When we next see her after her husband's arrest she has made her way to Italy and it seems forever before there is a flashback explaining why she needed to flee the country. And what we see is still very little. She has made it into an medical school in Rome and subsists by being a live-in maid for an introverted English piano teacher. Her husband is confined in a military jail in Africa.
The introverted piano teacher is Jason Kinsky, brilliantly played by David Thewlis. In scene after scene Shandurai cleans and Kinsky plays classical music on his Steinway. He barely seems to take notice of her, except through clumsy attempts to show affection which Shandurai finds intrusive and unwelcome. Then one day Kinsky, from out of the blue, declares a mad, passionate, and irrational love for her. It is a wonderful scene since it is obvious that he has been so sheltered in the "palazzo" that he inherited from his aunt that he has no idea what love, or life for that matter, is.
When Shandurai screams at him that she is married and that if he wants love from her he should obtain her husband's freedom we are at the crux of the plot and the rest of the movie moves along smoothly and touchingly. Little by little each time she cleans the house it begins to dawn on Shandurai that there are fewer and fewer items in the once beautifully furnished house. Little by little we begin to understand what is happening.
Shandurai has no idea why beautiful carpets and statuettes are disappearing but she notices one day that Kinsky is receiving mail from the African country in which her husband is imprisoned; and that Kinsky is meeting with the local African minister at the African Catholic Church in Rome. The African music of the church choir is matchless and the music throughout, both African and classical, is one of the strongest and most enjoyable elements of the movie.
Having attended the church for reasons related to Shandurai's husband, Kinsky picks up on the difference in African music and his blend of it with the classical produces a wonderful moment. Music that Shandurai has declared as boring to Kinsky, when melded with an African rhythm, makes her involuntarily move to the music in a gorgeous scene.
Throughout the film Thewlis maintains his introverted, even embarrassed, and quirky nerdiness. All the while unknown to Shandurai he is meeting the challenge of love that she gave him in ways that Shandurai only discovers by seeing correspondence to him from Africa. Kinsky himself finds his pathway to true love through the sacrifices he makes to help Shandurai's husband.
David Thewlis's performance is an unrecognized award-winning performance if I have ever seen one. One goes from contempt for an utter out-of-touch clod at the beginning of the movie to a genuine admiration and affection for him by the end. It is a terrific performance by an actor whom I have never seen on screen before this picture.
This movie does not need USA Today's "eroticism" to be one fine viewing experience. But for the inadequate explanation of Shandurai's reason for emigrating to Rome (left on the cutting room floor?), this is a five-star movie.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtle, Beautiful, Perfect,
By A Customer
This review is from: Besieged (DVD)Bernardo Bertolucci has crafted a delicate masterpiece that ranks up there as one of his very best. The first half of the film passes nearly wordless, while the screen fills up with beautiful images that evoke Fellini. This is the story of Shandurai (Newton) an African housekeeping in Rome for Mr. Kinsky (Thewlis), the man who can't help falling in love with her. The problem is that Shandurai's husband is a political prisoner back in Africa. The ending is perfect.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Master director outdoes previous marvels.,
This review is from: Besieged (DVD)I purchased "Besieged" upon strong recommendations of trustworthy friends and my own appreciation of "Stealing Beauty" and "Sheltering Sky". I came to like that relatievly short (93 min.) movie with only two major characters more than the director's past films.
Bertolucci tells an extraordinary story with a compact outline with great skill and makes it believable. He was able to throw in great camera angles and little cinematographic inventions for a totally fresh feeling. That film is most probably among the best of the best representatives of the art of cinema. Great directing, photography, acting and music. A jewel.
Absence of a 5.1 ch. soundtrack is not felt at all, yet this film could benefit from stereo PCM sound since it is loaded with piano playing.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Touches your soul,
This review is from: Besieged (DVD)I love, love, love this movie. Every time I watch this movie I am enthralled by the great acting and beautiful yet haunting music. This is a movie with very little dialogue, however, it is a very memorable piece of art. Thandie Newton plays a woman who has lost her husband to the cruel injustices in her African country and moves to Rome to study medicine. She supports herself as a live in maid for a pianist.
Very early on in the movie we learn her employer has fallen in love with her. When she laughs at his advances he begs her to let him prove his love for her. She eventually tells him the only way he can prove his love is to free her husband from his African prison. He realizes then she is married but he has made a promise to prove his love and goes about selling his art and furniture to free her husband.
The haunting beauty of this film is the up close shots of Thandie Newton's face as she expresses joy, sadness, fear and remorse. She expresses all of her emotions without speaking words and draws the audience inside her and we experience her inner turmoil. As she realizes what her employer is doing for her and her husband she slowly begins to realize she has some feelings for him. Yet, because of the lack of dialogue we are never sure whether her feelings are a result of her gratefulness or true desire.
My only sore point is the ending of this film leaves you hanging. You want the beautiful African maid and her white lovestruck employer to be together, but we do not get the American style of a finished ending. We are left to make our own interpretations.
I am actually going to purchase this movie and the soundtrack. That's how wonderful I think it is.
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Besieged by Bernardo Bertolucci (DVD - 1999)