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Beloved: Movie Review

Reviewed by Christopher Atamian

Literary adaptations are always challenging to bring to the screen, particularly novels as powerful and intricate as Toni Morrison's "Beloved." Oprah Winfrey's "Beloved" falls short of her own exacting standards in this long if powerfully shot and beautiful film. Jonathan Demme's direction is outstanding an some of the shots of nature and cut aways of flowers and rivers are cinematographically superb.

Winfrey plays the role of Sethe, a black woman in who has escaped from the South and now lives as a free woman with her dutiful daughter, Denver (Kimberly Elise). The teenage Denver is on the verge of rebellion, stifled by the life she leads within the four walls of their wooden house. we learn is an outcast and does not attend school. One hot Summer day, Paul D (Danny Glover), Sethe's former lover arrives to give her temporary warmth and hope. As the film progresses, we learn about Sethe's hardships and the awful suffering of African-Americans before Abolition. The scenes of African- American men and women being led in chains, and wearing face masks so that they cannot scream when they are brutally hung are some of the most harrowing in film. Demme shoots these scenes quickly, never exploiting the topic, but the image is so horrifying that it remains engraved in your mind during the entire film and afterwards.

This new Eden that Sethe forms with Denver and Paul D. is interrupted by he apparition of a beautiful mute girl in mourning clothes who nearly drowns trying to get to Sethe: the film's eponymous Beloved. Through Beloved, superbly played by Thandie Newton, the viewer learns the true, complete story of Sethe and her past. Through her apparition, the film's main characters are able to finally move on with their lives, as Beloved's back story provides catharsis for both the characters and the film, even if Sethe never fully recovers from ensuing events.

"Beloved" is such an important film and such a noble attempt by Demme and Winfrey that you hesitate not to like it. But in the end, the film is too long and feels like it could end in any one of three or four different places. And while the almost anthropomorphic use of Sethe's house as the locus of the entire film is clever and indeed difficult to achieve, it begins to feel a bit claustrophobic. Winfrey's performance is convincing if not superb--there's a studied almost strained quality to her craft. All in all, "Beloved" is a cut or two above most films. Morrison is one of our great novels and every American should see this film, if only to discover how the ghost of slavery can haunt a country many years hence.

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