By Darby Sawchuk

Featuring a relatively unknown cast, "Besieged"
takes a deeply personal look at the love that develops across
cultures and barriers of duty and loyalty.

In this latest film from Bernardo Bertolucci (The Last Emperor),
Thandie Newton (Beloved) plays Shandurai, an African woman whose
husband was abducted and imprisoned by the country’s dictator.
She flees her home, and in Rome working as a housemaid, while
attending medical school. David Thewlis plays Shadurai’s socially
awkward boss, the English composer Mr. Kinsky.

After a courting period, Kinsky, with the grace of a junior high
student, proclaims his love for Shandurai whereupon she informs
him that she can only love him if he helps free her husband from
prison. Mortified and embarrassed from the discovery of her marriage,
Kinsky retreats into his eccentric cocoon. Secretly, he begins
his pursuit of restoring happiness to his beloved by granting
her wish at whatever the cost to himself.

The dialogue is sparse for a romance. "Besieged", in
fact, courageously goes more than 10 minutes before the first
words are spoken. To compensate, throughout the film the lead
characters use more expressions and behaviours, both overt and
subtle, to convey their emotions.

Newton compellingly runs the gamut of emotions, switching from
hope to despair and revulsion. Thewlis’ performance is slightly
toned down in comparison. The energy he injects into his proclamation
of love contrasts with his usual uncomfortable behaviour and
lends importance to his emotion for Shandurai.

The music in "Besieged" also plays an important role
in the characters’ expression. Shandurai escapes into playful
African rhythms when attempting to content herself with her lot,
but when recalling the horror of her homeland, the music shifts
to the forceful solo chant of a minstrel who haunts her dreams.
Likewise, Kinsky’s music develops a desperation and urgency as
the climax approaches.

Further urgency is conveyed by the editing of Besieged. With
sharp cuts, the audience finds a visual representation of the
skipped heartbeats of the characters. These same sharp cuts,
however, are occasionally jarring as they wander into quieter

The ending of the film stands as the second-last note of a scale.
The final note, the resolution of the tension between love and
loyalty stands just outside the composition. Its absence leaves
viewers anxious and hanging, wondering which choice is the right

Such elements bring a faint shadow to a genre more accustomed
to light. Bertolucci blends these shades for a complex, emotional

"Besieged" begins at the Plaza theatre on June 10.

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