Shandurai (Newton), an African refugee in Rome, pays her way through medical school as a live-in cleaner for English pianist and composer Kinsky (Thewlis). Shy and timid, he woos her with gifts and music, but she rejects his overtures; her husband's a political prisoner in her homeland, she says. Kinsky responds with an act of love simple, profound and pivotal. Like Welles' The Immortal Story, this is a beautiful cameo from a mature artist. The scale doesn't signify a retreat - unless love is counted a minor theme - but it does seem to have had a liberating effect on the director, who embellishes a piquant short story by James Lasdun with dazzling mise en scène: delirious travelling shots, jumpcuts and an innovative soundtrack, all edited with seamless flair. This is cinema with music's fluid purity of form - indeed, it runs for 15 minutes before Bertolucci has recourse to anything so base as the spoken word. Kinsky plays Bach and Mozart; Shandurai, Salif Keita and Youssou N'dour. Some may find it pretentious, but Thewlis (clumsy, remote, rarefied) and Newton (contained, honestly bewildered) provide innumerable points of entry. It's a film about the limits of art, about civilization at this moment of flux, and about a gentle connection between a man and a woman.