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MOVIE REVIEW The Sheltering Sky

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Rating ***

I had almost rented the The Sheltering Sky video several times, but didn't actually do so till I read Literary Trips: Following in the Footsteps of Fame, featuring, among other authors, the elegant Paul Bowles (1910 - 1999). Bowles wrote the novel upon which the movie is based and plays a cameo role in it as the narrator. Victoria Brooks' "Dreaming in Tangiers" section of Literary Trips provides an excellent background which helped me understand this dark, complex film.

The movie, about life lived without goals or restrictions, is a fabulous period piece in true Bertolucci style. Its warm sepia tones; gorgeous textures in costumes, props and sets; and painstaking pace draw you relentlessly into the lazy, hazy 1920s. John Malkovich is perfectly cast as Port Moresby – the idle, rich, creepy American artist travelling across the North African Sahara just for something to do. "We're not tourists; we're travellers," he announces to a customs agent.

Moresby, his wife, Kit (Debra Winger) and their pal, Tunner (Campbell Scott) set out aimlessly across the desert, dressed in their white linens and dragging piles of luggage. They drift in and out of trouble and adventure on their emotional voyage, personifying Bowles' theme of "the dream/nightmare that awaits the culturally and morally estranged" (Literary Trips, "Dreaming in Tangier").

I never did figure out why they were in Morocco, what exactly they were doing and what went on in their heads. And by the end of this long, drawn-out movie, I no longer cared. (Bowles' novel is more conclusive on these matters.) But the film is worth looking at from the travel angle if nothing else, because it takes us behind closed doors into cultures that "tourists" might never dream exist. And, of course Paul Bowles as the narrator is a treat.

This 1990 film is available on video in the GreatestEscapes.com store: www.greatestescapesstore.com/videos_1.html.

To learn about Paul Bowles in Tangier, visit www.literarytrips.com.

Literary Trips is now available in Canadian bookstores and will be available in the US September 15, 2000. It can also be purchased through www.literarytrips.com and www.greatestescapes.com