THE SHELTERING SKY
DIRECTOR: BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI
CINEMATOGRAPHY: VITTORIO STORARO
MUSIC: RYUICHI SAKAMOTO
CAST: Debra Winger, John Malkovitch (Porter), Campbell Scott (Tanner), Jill Bennett (Mrs. Eyle), Timothy Spall (Eric Eyle), Paul Bowles (Narrator)
WRITTEN BY: Paul Bowles
SUPER FEATURES: The careful staging of the backgrounds. The acting.
It's hard to define this film. Maybe this is an acting showcase. If not, it is a very hypnotic exercise, in how one can get trapped in a fantasy about the African deserts, when seen through the eyes of a well to do group of people, whose life is centered around the traveling and experiencing the world. But, if you are not looking for anything like this, at least sit through the camera work of a true master that just knows how to make you envious, and wish to go see those places. This is the real trip of the film, with its sneaking
musical arrays, and smooth transitions.
Porter, his wife, and a close friend, take off for Africa, for what appears to be a romantic trip and pleasure cruise. But as time goes by, the trip becomes anything but a pleasure cruise, given the many events that take place.
But the travels, the bad food, and the lack of proper rest, take its toll of the ailing Porter, and eventually leaves the film is a desperate mode, like his wife. We wonder what will happen in the middle of the desert and how anyone will react to the events. And it doesn't help that Porter is having marital troubles, and his wife is having an affair
with their friend.
Bernardo Bertolucci is only as good a director as the actors he works with. And when he turns the camera on, they are on the stage, and just seem to carry the film. It's frustrating for the viewer, like on a stage, because we are a part of the character, instead of being an outsider looking in, like the average film in Hollywood. Of course, this can get boring, and rather slow, but if the actors are on the ball, the film shines, and blows you away, like the hot sky in the film. And this they do. But, if the actors are not strong, at least you can
leave it to the camera man to keep you entranced, and looking around, wondering what hit you. After the first half hour, this film is both hypnotic, and entrancing, and it's difficult to let go.
The oddity in this film, may be the French novelist Paul Bowles, who also acts in it, and narrates the film. The story is a recap of a person's mind in the vastness of the desert, if not the universe. The aging writer, comes across as a philosopher that says something that is meaningful, but is more alive than his own work. It is a tale of the desert first, and people second.
And Porter's wife, after he dies, lives through many of the living styles that many women suffer in those areas as subservient maids to the men, until she finally reaches a town, when she meets up with their friend, and past lover. But her mind is again entranced by the romantic atmosphere of a movie house, that happens to be closed. How a propos. The fantasy is stronger than the reality, and it can kill. This one survived, and the strong film does as well.
Debra Winger is excellent, and has to stretch her abilities to react in situations that appear difficult and unexpected. And she does very well.
Strong film, and very intense. Deep, but not evasive.
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