Back to basics
By leaving behind the epic scale of The Last Emperor for the intimacy of Besieged, BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI has reinvented his art. Words: Nigel Floyd
The irony of Besieged is that it has taken a 92-minute movie. shot for television in otin 28 days. to remind us of what a consummate cinematic artist Bernardo Bertolucci is. Boldly experimental. it feels like a young man‘s movie. brimming with excitement about the formal possibilities of cinema and the endless capacity for reinventing the medium.
'It was like going back to the days of The .S'pider's‘ Slrutugem or The (‘ou/in'ntist.‘ enthuses Bertolucci. ‘One shot was giving birth to the next one. which was giving birth to the next. In the past I would never have dared to put such contradictory styles together like that — mixing tracking shots. zooms. hand-held camera and Steadicam. But when we were filming inside the apartment. the limitations forced me to find solutions that were organic to the physical space. This is why cinema is so closely related to architecture. especially for someone who moves the camera a lot.‘
Now nearly 60 wars of age. Bertolucci is one of
the elder statesman of modern cinema. yet he was inspired by the iconoclastic attitudes of a new generation of young filmmakers. ‘My generation. which is from the o()s. was inspired by the Nuuve/le Vague — (Bodard. Truffaut. Chabrol. the auteurist writings of Andre Bazin. And like them. we appreciated and loved films which had a linkage to
Fresh start: Bernardo Bertolucci and Thandie Newton on the set of Besieged
‘Over the past two or three years, I have had a very strong feeling that cinema is changing. There is a kind of cutting of the umbilical cord.' Bernardo Bertolucci
g . ’3' . ..
the fathers of cinema — Opbuls. Renoir. Hawks. Mizoguchi. Ozu. The movies I loved were the ones where you could feel this link with the past.
‘But over the past two or three years. I have had a very strong feeling that cinema is changing. With films like Wong Kar-Wai’s Happy Together. Harmony Korine’s Gum/no and Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo 66. there is a kind of cutting of the umbilical cord. They are happy to be in the present. about the present. without any sense of owing something to the past. This is the first time I have loved movies where you don‘t feel a deep influence from the past. I wanted to find out what this change meant in practise. by trying something new. I think a director should write on the wall, “Cinema is to be reinvented every time you make a movie".‘
Thandie Newton had played African-American slave women in two period films — Merchant/Ivory’s Jefferson In Paris and Jonathan Demme’s Beloved — but her portrayal of a contemporary African woman in Besieged is of an altogether different order. Yet when Bertolucci first met her. he was not sure she was right for the role.
‘Of course. when you meet her in person. she is very different from the way she appears on the screen.‘ says the director. ‘She is very intense and there is a light of intelligence in her face. I think. in a way. [her acting in Besieged] is an homage to her mother. because she has some gestures that are only African. that a very elegant English girl would never make. The way she uses the mop. the way she pulls up her sleeves — these are things which are so perfect. And she was excited. too. because it was like going back to the roots.’
Glasgow Film Theatre and Edinburgh Filmhouse from Fri 11 Jun. See review.
Lights, camera, action. . .
A PROGRAMME OF Israeli and Palestinian films is currently on show for seven weeks at Edinburgh's Fruitmarket Gallery. Under the banner ’Descriptions Of A Struggle' and complementing the Tales Of The Sands exhibition, the season includes three documentaries by Amos Gitai, as well as Elia Suleiman's 1996 Venice prize-winner Chronicle Of A Disappearance.
'The questions raised by the films and videos go to the very heart of what it means to be an artist working in a “specific time and place", choosing to "speak" within the terms of specific media,’ says Professor Paul Willemen in the introduction to the Fruitmarket's detailed booklet on the season. Further information is available from the gallery on 0131 225 2383; individual screening times and film details can be found in the film listings and index sections of this magazine.
EDINBURGH COLLEGE OF ART and Napier University are holding screenings of degree show films at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh on Thu 17 and Mon 21 Jun respectively. These programmes will be reviewed next issue.
KINO FILM 99, the Manchester International Short Film 8: Video Festival, is calling on Scottish-based filmmakers to submit new work for the event to be held from 25—31 Oct (deadline 1 Aug). There are two categories: one for films no longer than 30 minutes, the other for films no longer than five minutes. The winner of the latter will receive £1000 towards their next project. For more information, call Glynn Repton on 0161 288 2494.
THE BIG SCREEN element of Glasgow’s West End Festival comes to the Grosvenor and Gilmorehill Cinemas between Sat 12-Sun 27 Jun. It's effectively a crash course in film classics, with such unmissable treats on offer as Some Like It Hot, The Philadelphia Story, King Kong, Manhattan. Casablanca and Metropolis. See film listings for screenng times.
National identities: Chronicle Of A
10—24 Jun I999 THE U8T21