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Review by Jay Rittenberg

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Directed by Jonathan Demme
Starring Ophrah Winfrey and Danny Glover

Critically acclaimed (but shockingly underutilized) director Jonathan Demme is once again able to move audiences with a memorable and haunting story of one person's plight against hatred and injust Demme shows the moviegoer through the eyes of his hero that what she's going through should never have happened, but because her heart is bigger than the incredible weight of sorrow she carries, she will win out in the end. ice.

Eighteen years have passed since Paul (Danny Glover) last set eyes on Sethe (Oprah Winfrey), but that hasn't stopped him from searching for her. The film opens as Sethe surprisingly sees this man from her past walk right up to her front step. She soon invites him in, but for Paul the 18 years that have passed might have been easier than accepting the invitation. Although Paul senses death, it is not an evil dwelling as the reddish images might imply, but a sad one. Sethe's daughter perished many years prior and she lives with this questioning fear and agony every day of her life. She stresses that this is a "Sweet House," but her beautiful, headstrong daughter Denver (Kimberly Elise) strongly believes that there's a ghost in their house, and she doesn't want to live there anymore. It's been tough on Sethe raising Denver alone and even though the house may be haunted by repressed memories, Sethe doesn't want to run away anymore.

Although the passing of time has ripped away portions of her soul and Sethe still lives with the pain on her face every day, Paul is determined to fight back her demons. Paul wants a small part of Sethe's heart and to make a life together with her. He soon makes her realize that she is not the only one who is a prisoner of the past, but Paul's hopes of a prosperous family unit soon begin to shatter as they discover the mysterious Beloved, a young woman who is hopelessly lost in spirit and desperately needs their help. She needs direction and Denver (who is finally able to connect with someone) is the solid base she needs to learn from. Beloved, with her haunting face and mesmerizing eyes is a symbol of connection, like the house itself. She is able to bring Denver closer to her mother whom is slowly starting to find a way to deal with her past.

Paul does not trust this young woman and is upset that Sethe is hanging on to her every word. He is haunted by Beloved who also shuns Denver's affections in favor of Sethe, whose love is the only one she believes she needs. She is in fact a demon to him who gets in the way of his plan to covet Sethe's heart. Beloved is not only able to push Paul out of Sethe's life, but she is able (through Sethe's flashbacks) to delve deeper into her existence-a connection that not even her own daughter Denver was able to capture. Sethe retraces when she was trying to get milk to her newborn. Demme captures her tough journey and highlights it with her heartbreaking failure to feed her child. Even more powerful was the moment she prevented her children from being enslaved. She was willing to do whatever it took (no matter how gut wrenching it was) to keep her children from living the lives of slaves in a "White Man's World." Beloved helps Sethe realize who she took in, which ultimately sends shock waves through her. Even though the audience realizes what Sethe has realized, Beloved is much more than meets the eye posing the question, "Will she stay?"

Beloved is many things to many people and by the end of the film, she touched their lives in more ways then they could have imagined. Paul is now a stronger man realizing that he loves the woman that he was once separated from for over 18 years. Impassioned by her grandmother's words, Denver goes out and braves the cruel world. She is determined to stay strong in the face of all the hatred that surrounds her. Although Beloved winds up breaking Sethe's heart once more, her presence makes her realize that she should stop blaming herself, that what beats inside of her is a pure breath of fresh air.

An uneasy, and difficult film to watch at times which engages us with its memorable images of our vicious history coupled with beautiful panoramic views of Sethe's haunting and symbolic house. Demme uses colors of red to emphasize the sadness of his main character's past and intensifies the music whenever the past is brought up. He nicely panned shots to build up the drama and tension, while always using the right blend of music. These elements helped the director emphasize a movie of discovery as the three characters (thanks in large part to Beloved) long to find their purpose in life.

The performances are first-rate across the board! Danny Glover's moments with Winfrey are heartfelt and sweet. Thandie Newton (as Beloved) does a terrific job with a complex role in which her eyes had to do most of her talking. A fine symbolic display is able to link all three characters together. "Set It Off" star Kimberly Elise delivers a breakthrough performance as she embodies a beautiful hidden strength which comes to the surface when she is determined to do what it takes to take care of her family despite the odds.

The film, however, belongs to Winfrey as we sense her heavy heart and applaud her successful journey back home. You really feel for Sethe as she lives everyday unable to exhale due to the cloud of uncertainty and her burden of pain. By the end however, she can breathe freely and the moviegoer can look forward to her prosperous future.

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