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Rating ****

This arty, unusual movie relies more on music, imagery, body language and facial expressions than on words to tell an extraordinary love story.

The exquisite heroine, Shandurai (Thandie Newton) leaves Africa after her husband is imprisoned. Scenes of Africa, its music, its poverty and oppression, its dirt roads and distant hills infuse the drama with a sense of the hopelessness and helplessness she must have felt.

Shandurai lands in Rome, where she goes to medical school and lives in the basement of a dilapidated palazzo, owned by Mr. Kinsky, an eccentric English pianist (played by David Thewlis). Shandurai pays for her room and board by keeping the place clean.

The imposing front door, flush to the street, gives no indication of the sensual beauty of sight and sound flooding the interior. At least four stories high, the home offers panoramic views of the city from most of its tall windows. The sun streams in, tossing patterns onto the spiral, white-marble staircase and casting lacy shadows through the intricate, wrought-iron banister. The sunny rooftop, where Shandurai hangs laundry, drips with wisteria. The courtyard is filled with statuary and greenery. Inside, the peacefulness of the palazzo and passion of Kinsky's music contrast starkly with the busy Roman streets outside.

Besotted by Shandurai, Mr. Kinsky besieges her with flowers and gifts, delivered by the dumbwaiter in her room. She finally tells him what it would take to have her love him: getting her husband out of prison. Unbeknownst to her, Mr. Kinsky promptly sets those wheels in motion: meets with an African cleric and starts selling off his priceless art, Persian rugs and other treasures even his grand piano. When a letter arrives from her husband to say he is free and on his way to her, Shandurai realizes that Mr. Kinsky has stripped his house to buy her that ultimate gift.

Cut to the morning of her husband's arrival. The doorbell rings; her husband is there with his suitcase. Shandurai and Mr. Kinsky wake up, naked, in each other's arms. The doorbell keeps ringing ... and ringing. Finally, she gets up. Fade to black. I hate it when that happens.

This 1998 drama is now on video.

For more information, visit us.imdb.com/Title?0149723.

Besieged (1999)

Starring: Thandie Newton, David Thewlis
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Runtime: 94 minutes
Rating: R
Genre: Drama, Romance
DVD $17.99