[Screen It]


(1999) (Thandie Newton, David Thewlis) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Moderate Minor Moderate Minor Minor
Minor None None None None
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
Moderate Minor Minor Mild Minor

Drama: A young woman becomes attracted to her boss when it becomes apparent that he'll do whatever it takes to free her politically imprisoned husband.
Shandurai (THANDIE NEWTON) is a young woman who's shocked to see her teacher husband forcibly removed from his classroom and imprisoned for unknown political reasons. Sometime later, she's living in Rome working on getting a medical degree when not serving as a live-in maid for Jason Kinsky (DAVID THEWLIS), a withdrawn pianist, composer and part-time instructor who lives in a large house left to him by his aunt.

Seemingly somewhat eccentric, Kinsky is passionately attracted to Shandurai and sends her little tokens of his love via a dumbwaiter to her basement bedroom. She, however, wants nothing to do with him, but during one of his romantic throes where he says he'll do anything to gain her love, she tells him to help free her husband. Not realizing she's married, Kinsky withdraws to his piano, apologizing for his forward indiscretion.

Yet as Shandurai continues her medical classes with fellow student Agostino (CLAUDIO SANTAMARIA), she begins to notice that certain valuable items in the house are now gone. With ever more of them disappearing, she simultaneously gets encouraging news about her husband's whereabouts and the progress of his case. As she soon realizes Kinsky's plan, Shandurai becomes more attracted to her boss that eventually leads her to a difficult decision about the men in her life.

Unless they're fans of Newton, Thewlis or director Bernardo Bertolucci ("The Last Emperor"), it's highly unlikely.
For brief sexuality.
  • THANDIE NEWTON plays a medical student who finds herself becoming attracted to her boss after it appears he's working to help get her husband freed from political imprisonment. In one scene, she apparently drinks an entire bottle of champagne, has an erotic dream, and then crawls into bed with her boss (although we never know if they "do" anything).
  • DAVID THEWLIS plays a somewhat eccentric piano player, composer and part-time instructor who decides he'll do anything to win Shandurai's heart. As such, he helps free her husband at his own considerable personal expense, gets drunk in one scene, and likewise ends up in bed with her (although the outcome of that is unknown).


    OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
    From the esteemed and award winning writer/director of acclaimed films such as "The Last Emperor" and "Last Tango in Paris" comes Bernardo Bertolucci's latest effort, "Besieged." Best described as a "fill in the blanks" type of film, this ultimately unsatisfying picture is occasionally compelling in a visual sense, but has so many gaping holes in it -- both literally and figuratively -- that it may soon be listed in thesaurus definitions as visual examples of Swiss cheese or colanders.

    Essentially a two-person story told with as little effort in providing much in the way of any dialogue or explanation of events, the picture is yet another recent release (the other being "Endurance") that attempts to tell its tale mostly through visuals alone. While that's a somewhat admirable experiment in meeting the pure definition of a screenplay -- a story told with pictures -- it certainly doesn't insure that the end product is going to be any good.

    Although the film isn't awful, it's certainly a frustrating experience for all but the most adamant supporters of metaphorical storytelling. As such, there's a bare bones plot that moves the story forward, but we never learn any particulars beyond the obvious and by the end still know next to nothing about the characters appearing within it.

    Perhaps Bertolucci is playing off the lesser-used definitions of the picture's title and is attempting to cause distress and worry in his audience or make them besiege him with questions such as "Huh?" "What" and "Am I missing something here?" Whatever the intentions, he certainly has left much to the imagination.

    For instance, we never know why the military/police abduct Shandurai's husband or how/why she suddenly ends up in Rome working for Kinsky while also trying to get a medical degree. While it's arguable that some of that information isn't completely necessary in telling the story, the sudden jump in time and locale from some unknown African village to an eventually identified Italian city is quite jarring. It also makes one question whether the editor was snoozing as film unreeled onto the floor during post production or that perhaps the projectionist misplaced the film's second reel and decided to show the movie without it.

    The same puzzlement holds true for the film's many jump cuts -- where a few or many seconds appear to be missing within a given scene that consequently causes a sudden "jump" in a character's movement. I've never been a big fan of that cinematic device and it, along with some odd choices of slow motion footage, do nothing but distract the audience from the proceedings.

    Of course with so little dialogue present and next to nothing ever developing regarding the plot's progression, the audience will have plenty of time to ponder Bertolucci's odd choices. Then again, they may find more intrigue in trying to ascertain what sort of sticky substance their shoe has just become adhered to or why theater popcorn always tastes better than what's made at home.

    Without a traditional narrative storytelling approach, Bertolucci, who works from writer James Lasdun's ("Sunday") original story, puts the burden on the film's visuals, music and performers to carry the audience from start to finish.

    Cinematographer Fabio Cianchetti's camera work does make good use of the large home's lighting and architecture -- including a much visited spiral stairwell -- and prevents the film from being and/or becoming too much of a monotonous experience. The same holds true for the occasionally effective juxtaposition between traditional African village music and the more symphonic melodies passionately belted out on the piano.

    Unfortunately, neither Thandie Newton ("Beloved," "Jefferson in Paris") nor David Thewlis ("Seven Years in Tibet," "The Island of Dr. Moreau") can do much with their underwritten roles and that causes the film to unravel rather quickly. The biggest problem is that Bertolucci has given them next to nothing with which to work, and without much story or dialogue, the two are consequently left floundering while trying to make something out of practically nothing.

    Since we know nothing about them -- which similarly holds true for them about each other -- we never really care about their characters and/or predicaments. One can obviously see where the film is headed regarding a budding romance between the two, but since it's so telegraphed and then presented with no passion, guilt, or any other emotion for that matter -- other than frustration on the part of the audience -- we have no vested interested in the obvious outcome.

    If your idea of a good time at the movies is watching a film that generates far more questions than it ever answers and essentially consists of a woman cleaning house for an assumed eccentric who spends all day playing the piano, then this film is right up your alley.

    For everyone else, it might be best to avoid this picture whose "forbidden" romance is unnecessarily grounded, passionless and certainly far too slow in developing to be of much interest. Neither as steamy as "Last Tango in Paris" and certainly nowhere as grand as "The Last Emperor," this clearly isn't one of Bertolucci's better films. As such, we give "Besieged" just a 3 out of 10.

    Here's a brief summary of the content found in this R-rated drama. A woman has what's presumably an erotic dream and we see her sensuously rubbing/running her fingers along her mouth and breasts that we briefly see bare. She then awakens and climbs into her bed with her boss (who's passed out drunk). While we never know if they do anything, we do see her bare breasts again when she gets up.

    Some drinking also occurs, with several characters apparently being somewhat drunk. Beyond that, a brief scene where a man is arrested and similarly brief instances of a woman suddenly peeing on herself and vomiting under stress, the rest of the film's categories have little or nothing in the way of major objectionable content.

    Although it's doubtful many kids will want to see this film, should you still be concerned about its appropriateness for them or anyone else in your home, you may wish to take a closer look at the listed content.

    Of special note for those concerned with bright, repetitively flashing lights, a few instances of that occur during a scene set in a club.

  • Agostino tells Shandurai "let's get drunk" and then asks about the whereabouts of the cognac and whiskey.
  • Shandurai has a drink at a bar.
  • Hearing that Shandurai's husband is being released, Agostino tells her to get some champagne and whiskey to celebrate.
  • Kinsky and a priest have drinks, with Kinsky appearing a bit tipsy. We then see them drinking even more and later see Kinsky in bed apparently passed out.
  • Shandurai opens a bottle of champagne and then apparently proceeds to drink the entire bottle (we see her drinking some and then see her later discover the bottle to be empty).
  • We see urine running down Shandurai's leg and puddling at her foot after she sees her husband being taken away by soldiers.
  • We briefly see Shandurai vomit on a city street when she becomes upset.
  • The soldiers who arrest Shandurai's husband for political reasons presumably have both (although we never know why they arrest him).
  • Some may see Shandurai as having some of both for falling for Kinsky after he gives up nearly everything to free her husband (since she said that would be the one thing that would get her to love him).
  • Some soldiers come into a classroom, shove Shandurai's husband between them and then remove him as he's arrested.
  • Rifles: Carried by soldiers who arrest Shandurai's husband.
  • Phrase (in English subtitles): "Shut up."
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • Agostino tells Shandurai that she's the only woman he "could sleep with."
  • As Shandurai removes a top layer of clothes, the camera briefly focuses on her (still clothed) breasts.
  • Shandurai tells Agostino that the medical testing board is "very homophobic" and we later see him dancing with a man at a bar/club (although we're never sure of his orientation).
  • A few classical nude statues are seen during the film.
  • Hearing that Shandurai's husband is being released, Agostino tells her that she and her husband will "make love for a week."
  • We see Shandurai apparently having an erotic dream. As such, she makes some slight moaning sounds, sensuously rubs her fingers over her lips and then does the same over her breasts (which we briefly see nude). Later, we see some cleavage as she walks around with a sheet wrapped around her.
  • She then starts to undress Kinsky (who's already passed out in bed). After unbuttoning his shirt, she climbs onto his bed, snuggles up to him and wraps her leg around him. He then unconsciously does the same back to her. The next morning, we see them in bed with his arm covering her bare breasts. A ringing doorbell awakens both of them and as she gets up, we briefly see her bare breasts. We never know, however, whether they had sex or not.
  • A miscellaneous character smokes.
  • Shandurai must deal with worrying about her husband after he's arrested by soldiers and removed to an unknown destination.
  • Why Kinsky thinks he loves Shandurai, wants to marry him, and essentially throws away his fortune in an attempt to get her to love him.
  • Countries where the military and/or regular police can arrest anyone for any reason and detain them for as long as they like.
  • Some soldiers come into a classroom, shove Shandurai's husband between them and then remove him as he's arrested.
  • In what appears to be a dream, Shandurai runs along a city block, ripping or tearing down posters from the walls.

  • Reviewed June 8, 1999 / Posted June 11, 1999

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