Master Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci brought Peter Bowles’ bestseller to the big screen in 1990. It’s an odyssey of two distinct parts; the first act sees the arrival of the Moresbys, Port (John Malkovich) and Kit (Debra Winger), with handsome tag-along nuisance, Tunner (Campbell Scott), to Morocco, on an ocean liner from New York, in the late 1940s. They laze and explore, the relationship of Port and Kit threatened by Tunner’s fancying of Kit, and of Port’s self-indulgent recklessness. Meanwhile the unctuous English Lyles (Timothy Spall and Jill Bennett) loiter in the same hotels, begging for money, offering a ride to the next village, sweating under the sweltering sun.
Kit hopes to re-kindle the long relationship she’s had with Port, in hopes the exotic landscape and foreign culture will re-ignite a quashed passion, but Port seems indifferent, more interested in the peripheral sights and sounds, including the allure of a voluptuous Bedouin whore. Surely, this will cost him. And it does. Karma plagues him with typhoid fever.
The second act is another journey in itself, as Kit is confronted with an immense loneliness. It is here that The Sheltering Sky becomes more than just a melancholy title, a hint of the darkness that lies beyond the blue sky. Dialogue dissipates as the camera lingers across the landscape, the sand dunes beckoning, the hidden faces and blankly staring eyes of the Bedouin people, the camels barking, the local musicians wailing in the balmy, oppressive, evening air.An unspeakable solitude is draped over the movie for the remainder of its time, an existential attraction to the nothingness of space being purely terra firma and the weight of the self upon it. Kit sheds her former existence as she stumbles through a pseudo-carnal experience with Belqassim (Eric Vu-An), a handsome Bedouin who finds the lost white woman a fascination. Kit finds herself the ultimate traveler; wandering lost, then found, yet still misplaced, adrift, mislaid.
A drama spiced with eroticism, a sumptuous, but haunting travelogue, it’s a compelling study of dislocation between two lovers, strangers in a strange land. Boasting terrific performances, an evocative score from Ryuichi Sakamoto, authentic art direction and costuming, and truly stunning cinematography from Vittoria Storaro, The Sheltering Sky is, ultimately, a brooding tale of love and despair, perfect for the heartbroken, the lonely exploiters, and those with quiet, aching passions.
The Sheltering Sky film review by Bryn Tilly of www.cultprojections.com