Besieged

Bernardo Bertolucci just doesn't carry the kind of cachet he once had. Ever since The Last Emperor, his films have met with mixed reviews, and Besieged is bound to follow the pattern of disappointment. David Thewlis plays against type as a shy, reclusive pianist in Rome who harbors a simmering passion for his maid (Thandie Newton), an African émigré whose husband is a political prisoner back home. The action is set mainly in one house, not unlike Bertolucci's Last Tango In Paris, but Besieged is actually a repressed reversal of Last Tango's pattern: It's all glancing and no action. Though Besieged is beautiful to look at—as has long been a saving grace for Bertolucci's films—there's not much to think about during its relatively brief running time. Newton rarely extends her range beyond wide-eyed bewilderment, not that she necessarily needs to do so in Besieged: Her romance with Thewlis doesn't so much blossom as appear. Thewlis, for his part, remains an enigma. From the start, his obsession is expressed through lingering, sensual close-ups of Newton, though why he has fallen in love is never made clear, a mystery that clouds the meaning of the sacrifices he makes for her. The script was written by Bertolucci and his wife Clare Peploe—who adapted it from James Lasdun's short story "The Siege"—so, if nothing else, you can certainly read something into all the lovey-dovey gawking and true-love moralizing.

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