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CrankyCritic® movie reviews:


Starring Thandie Newton and David Thewlis
Screenplay by Bernardo Bertolucci and Clare Peploe
Based on a short story by James Lasdun
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci

IN SHORT: For film students. [Rated [R], 92 minutes]

It was the names that drew Cranky in to see Besieged. Though way past my film school days, director Bernardo Bertolucci is one of those "names" of the indie/arthouse type of film that, more often than not, break through into the commercial arena. On the controversial side, he first came to note for demonstrating 101 things you can do with butter, better known as Last Tango in Paris. In a more commercial vein was the spectacular, Oscar winning portrait of the last days of Imperial China in The Last Emperor. His last film, Stealing Beauty returned to the classic indie style: small cast, small story and name brand stars Jeremy Irons and Liv Tyler.

For those that frequent the arthouse circuit, Besieged is a flick that is a must see for any film maker wannabe. It shows Bertolucci's power as a film maker as, in the first twenty minutes, it lays out the entire backstory without a single word of English dialog. We meet Shandurai (Thandie Newton), inhabitant of an African country ruled by military dictatorship. We visibly see the terror that she lives under, as her schoolteacher husband is rounded up and carted away. Fleeing to Rome (and that relocation happens so quickly that I missed it, making it the only flaw in this sequence) Shandurai finds lodging and work as a housekeeper for an English expatriate pianist while juggling medical school studies and tracking her husband's imprisonment on top of it all.

Jason Kinsky (David Thewlis), the pianist is, to be kind, a reclusive personality. Without any real contact with the outside world (save his kidlet students) he falls in love with his lodger. Desperately in love, communicated by notes and gifts dropped down a dumbwaiter shaft to the basement where she lives. Shandurai, of course, turns him down. His reaction, and the fine performance by Thewlis and Newton are what real film geeks'll discuss over espresso afterwards.

Bertolucci has kept this film so simple that to tell you any more would rob this one note symphony of its pleasures. There's a ton of nonverbal cues that keep the flick interesting, as long as your paying attention. Listen carefully as the types of music that each character listens to changes as their relationship develops, as an example.

And I'm writing like a film student, meaning it's time to head over to Starbucks. That doesn't affect the rating any, though...

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Besieged, he would have paid . . .


Rental level, 'cuz most of us don't frequent the arthouses.

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