Plot: What’s it about?
While some movies lend themselves to text description well, some films use visual imagery to tell some of the story, which makes a fitting summary almost impossible. This movie falls into the latter category, with a good storyline but even better visuals, which makes a synopsis difficult to craft. So while the summary may be brief, you’ll understand why once you’ve seen the movie. Shandurai (Thandie Newton) is recovering from a life changing event. Her husband was arrested for actions against the government, so she ends up in Rome, where she works as a live in maid for Mr. Kinsky (David Thewlis) while attending medical school. Kinsky is taken with Shandurai from the beginning, but wonders how to approach the prospect of asking her if she feels the same. He starts by placing flowers in a place he knows she will find them, but he moves to something less subtle quickly. After she discovers a diamond ring hidden with her clothes, she confronts Kinsky, who pops the question, seeking her for his wife. She wants to love him as well, but demands that he prove his love for her by having her husband freed from prison. How far will Kinsky’s love and passion force him to go?
This is one of the most visually stunning movies I have seen, filled with beautiful imagery and non spoken development. While some movies stress dialogue or actions, this movie takes time off, and just lets the on screen visuals tell the story, which makes for a powerful film. The film was shot on location in Rome, and the visuals prosper, both interior and exterior shots are amazing. No description is needed for the incredible Roman scenery, but the cinematography really frames it well, maximizing the impact. The interior visuals are almost as magical, with such attention to detail and complex placement. While the scenic shots create a massive backdrop, the characters do not seem distant, nor do we feel like we’re watching from the outside. When the characters are the focus, the camera sweeps in, putting us right in the middle of things, so we feel close to the action. This is good, because some of the acting is so subtle, it would be difficult to realize from a distance. While I feel this is another wonderful film from Bernardo Bertolucci, some people might have trouble with the pace, which can be on the slow side.
As I mentioned above, this film was directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, who I hold among the finest directors in the business. While his American films are few and far between, he has an extensive resume overseas. Still, most of you will recognize at least a couple of his movies, such as The Last Emperor, Little Buddha, and Last Tango In Paris. Bertolucci has a way of creating such lush visuals, which tend to take over the films, and move the story along, without the need for words or intense acting. The cast in this film consists of two main actors, who are backed up a good supporting cast. To achieve the subtle motions needed for this type of movie, the lead actors must be talented at that type of work. Taking themselves to task here are David Thewlis and Thandie Newton, who manage to pull off the roles without a hitch. Thewlis (Total Eclipse, The Island of Dr. Moreau) seems perfect for this type of stylish acting, and he proves that he is with a wonderful performance filled with nuances. Thandie Newton (Beloved, Mission: Impossible 2) is not an actress I am familiar with, but she plays the part well.
As the movie and disc stand on trial before me, this is an easy decision to make. The movie is magical, and the breathtaking visuals alone provide enough incentive to watch it again and again. I steer those with short attention spans away, but all others should take the time to experience this film. I think those who seek some excellent direction will want to peruse this and other Bertolucci films, as his style is inspiring. The disc itself is more of the same, with a beautiful transfer and solid audio, as well as a nice selection of extras. I don’t understand why the case doesn’t list these features, but rest assured, they are found on the disc. I can’t recommend this release enough, do yourself a favor and check it out.
Video: How does it look?
Besieged is presented in a 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, with a full frame version also included on this dual layered disc. The image is amazing, which means those incredible visuals look the very best they can. The colors appear natural and bright, and some golden tints appear, but these are intentional, not an error with the transfer. The contrast levels are deep and natural, with high visible detail and no murky shadows. I noticed no compression errors here, another top notch New Line release.
Audio: How does it sound?
A surround track is utilized, but in all honesty, audio is not even close to the focus here, so most of the audio is subtle and in the background. That’s not to say the audio is bad, but this type of film relies little on the sound, using a more visual approach. You will note some surround use, but this is for atmosphere more than anything, but it is present. Dialogue is the most active element, coming across well with consistent volume and no separation issues.
Supplements: What are the extras?
While the packaging lists only a couple supplements, this disc has quite a few bonus features to enjoy, and I am not sure why the packaging does not reflect these supplements. The packaging lists talent files and the theatrical trailer, but there is much more here. A fifteen minute behind the scene piece is included, which also shows some of the techniques Bertolucci uses to craft his films. The disc also sports two running commentaries, both of which will delight fans of the movie. The first commentary features director Bernardo Bertolucci and associate producer Claire Peploe, who worked together to write the screenplay. This track provides many behind the scenes anecdotes, and is a wonderful chance to glimpse into the direction technique of Bertolucci. The second track begins with James Lasdun, who wrote the story which the screenplay was based. He reads his original short story, then is joined by Bertolucci and Peploe, who offer further commentary. Again, this track has much to offer for followers of Bertolucci, as well as those who enjoyed this movie.