Besieged is the latest film from Bernardo Bertolucci (Stealing Beauty, The Last Emperor), arguably one of the great directors of our time. Thandi Newton (the title character from Beloved and the upcoming Mission Impossible 2) stars as Shandurai, the housekeeper of Mr. Kinsky (David Thewlis, The Big Lebowski). The two cannot be any more different. Kinsky is a rich spoiled Englishman, who teaches piano lessons. Shandurai is a recent immigrant from Africa, where political tensions in her country resulted in the unlawful detention of her husband.

Shandurai cleans Kinsky's house by day, and attends school at night. She is very withdrawn, timid, and seldom speaks to anyone. As Kinsky is around her more, he becomes increasingly attracted to her. Initially, Shandurai does not return his affections. Time passes, and she becomes more amenable. Nevertheless, the memory of her husband still lingers in her mind, so she refuses to give in to Kinsky. Besieged is notable for its use of music instead of dialogue. The dialogue present is sparse and quick. Music pervades the entire film. Bertolucci uses music to portray Shandurai and Kinsky's emotion, to both each other and the world surrounding them. The music alternates between classical compositions on Kinsky's piano to African rhythms on Shandurai's radio. Classical music is new to Shandurai, and her appreciation for it grows throughout the film. The changes in composition also mirror Kinsky and Shandurai's growing affection for each other.

Kinsky's Roman villa is a beautiful complement to the music playing throughout the film. Newton and Thewlis are great, infusing true emotion into their roles. The script by Bertolucci and Clare Pepoe allows us to watch how their interaction changes Shandurai and Kinsky, through a sly smile or a pained look in the eyes. Both people are very real with a depth to their personality not present in most other movies. With so much good about the movie, it pains me to say that the movie is still somewhat boring. Most people will find it downright awful. The lack of dialogue is jarring, but once you get used to it, it is very refreshing. The story, which progresses over ninety minutes, could probably have been told with just as much emotion in half an hour. There are long stretches of Newton doing household chores, which gets tiring after a while. Sometimes, it feels like Bertolucci is just stretching out the plot, waiting for the inevitable point when Shandurai and Kinsky consummate their relationship.

Mongoose rates it: Okay
1 hour, 30 minutes, Rated R for a very brief sex scene.

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