Once one becomes desensitized to the practices of mainstream Hollywood, being beaten over the head by its steady supply of platitudinous drivel becomes a sort of comfortable, if stultifying, addiction -- like heroin or self-abuse. Generally, just about any character who stumbles onscreen does so accompanied by a 20-words-or-less "cheat sheet" about their life's story and purpose. Any loose ends caused by the characters' interactions are then neatly wrapped up within two hours. When something large explodes as the protagonist runs away from it, we know the movie is over and are free to go home.
After being so conditioned, however, modern moviegoers often have difficulty accurately interpreting less-mainstream work from the so-called artists of cinema. They are either too dulled to pick up on any nuance less subtle than a gunshot, or so stupefied that they hail the mere absence of Hollywood cacophony as pure genius. In the case of "Besieged," Bernardo ("The Last Emperor") Bertolucci is banking on the latter, excising all explanation from his movie and filling it mostly with pictures of Shandurai (Thandie Newton) and Mr. Kinsky (David Thewlis) glancing at one another with looks of either confusion or desire, or possibly gas, to the strains of Mr. Kinsky playing his piano.
With the exception of Mr. Kinsky, who briefly and embarrassingly states his love for Shandurai, his African house cleaner, neither of these characters ever says a damn thing. Because Bernardo won't tell us, this is supposedly artistic, but it leaves the audience to wonder constantly just what the hell is rattling around in those brains of theirs. For all I know, Shandurai could be calculating Pi to the trillionth digit in her head, while Mr. Kinsky is contemplating what color to paint his scrotum.
The movie is set in a Roman villa to which Shandurai has escaped from Africa, leaving her imprisoned husband behind. After Mr. Kinsky announces his inexplicable love for her and she tells him her husband is in jail, everything valuable in his house begins to disappear. Again, Bertolucci does not bother to explain. One assumes Mr. Kinsky is trying to get Shandurai's husband out of jail. Then again, he could be supporting a really nasty heroin habit. Who am I to say? Although I briefly considered starting a heroin habit of my own just to get through Bertolucci's pointless exercise in pretentious impenetrability.
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