Despite its bold opening of Puyi's attempted suicide as a prisoner in a reeducation camp in his late 50s, The Last Emperor is your standard biopic, complete with the framework of the aged character telling the story of his life. Of course, Puyi's peculiar childhood is the most interesting half of the two-and-a-half-hour film, and it's there where Bertolucci's grip on the material is the strongest. From the seven-year-old Puyi's desperation to connect with the mother he was separated from six years prior to the teenage Puyi's pet mouse. Bertolucci's poetics seem to transcend the film's immaculate design and execution. It helps that the material is inherently interesting -- we are all bound by duty in some regard and are constantly looking for an escape. Still, Bertolucci takes chances, even shocking us with a seven-year-old Puyi nestling in his mother's bare bosom or the pet mouse meeting its demise against the Forbidden City's gate at the hands of a frustrated Puyi. These are not mere exploits, however, but sad moments where it's clear that Puyi's childhood and foreshadowed adulthood needs and desires are controlled by others.
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If the passenger became a driver, could he or she handle all the metaphorical responsibilities that go with it? That question is central to Michelangelo Antonioni's re-released The Passenger (1975) and the answer provides a sobering glimpse into the souls of the contenders who foolishly wish for that second chance, that empty stretch of road, and don't have any idea where to start.
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The convoluted story has a female violinist (Irène Jacob) shanghaied from her indentured servitude by a semi-wealthy island-dweller (Willem Dafoe). Naturally, the woman's owner becomes a bit miffed and sends some goons (including Rufus Sewell and Sam Neill in a rare bad-guy role) after them. Imagine the hijinks!
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The BBC drama starring Aidan Turner returns to BBC One on September 4th.