Bernardo Bertolucci, along with co-scenarist Gianni Amico, used Dostoievski's 1846, pre-imprisonment novella The Double: A Petersburg Poem, which they moved to Italy and updated to the pro-Vietcong student-protest present,
The American artist couple Port and Kit Moresby travels aimless through Africa, searching for new experiences that could give new sense to their relationship. But the flight to distant regions leads both only deeper into despair.Written by
Thomas Manhardt <Thomas.Manhardt@wu-wien.ac.at>
This film was referenced in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "Werewolf" when Crow shouts: "Come on, The Sheltering Sky moved faster than this!" See more »
The crew is reflected in the mirror when Kit gets out of bed alone. See more »
Well, terra firma.
We're probably the first tourists they've had since the war.
Tunner, we're not tourists. We're travelers.
Oh. What's the difference?
A tourist is someone who thinks about going home the moment they arrive, Tunner.
Whereas a traveler might not come back at all.
You mean *I'm* a tourist.
Yes, Tunner. And I'm half and half.
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Director Bernardo Bertolucci is the perfect choice for bringing Paul Bowles incredible novel -- one of the most finely crafted of the 20th century and one of my favorite books -- to the screen. Debra Winger and John Malkovich are fine as Kit and Port -- spoiled, bored, EMPTY Americans 'travelling' (NOT tourists) in Morocco just after WWII. Their journey -- one of self-discovery and an attempt to bring some life back into their marriage -- turns from one of idle fascination with an exotic culture (one in which Bowles, the author, immersed himself long ago, one which he loved unabashedly) turns into a trip to hell. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
Campbell Scott is also good in the role of their friend Tunner, and the Lyles -- the fawning Eric and his intolerably superior mother -- are every bit as disgusting as they seem. Some viewers have found these latter two portrayals to be a bit 'over the top' -- but they're completely irritating characters, whining and complaining constantly about the conditions in which they chose to place themselves. They are the biting fleas you cannot remove from your sleeping bag, no matter how long you search for them.
Filmed on location in the African desert, the film resounds and shines with Bertolucci's touch -- if it seems long and slow in places, those characteristic accurately portray the atmosphere of life in desert Morocco. The unbelievable heat would tend to slow things down a bit. The director's use of camera angles, light, and those long, slow, sweeping shots are masterful and perfect. Bowles was consulted every step of the way -- a sign of the respect held for the author and his work by the director -- and he even appears in the film and supplies narration.
A lot of people may find this type of film to be a bore, but you have to be consistent by watching it. If you want to fully understand the movie, you have to read the book, for the film itself, omits a great deal of material that would have the made the film longer than that of "Gone with the Wind".
I am amazed that a film of this scope, made by a director of Bertolucci's stature, with two of the most critically acclaimed actors of our time, has not appeared on DVD. There's a wonderful documentary called DESERT ROSES: THE MAKING OF 'THE SHELTERING SKY' that would make a nice piece of bonus material for a DVD release. When the film was shown on BRAVO, that network had the good taste to run the documentary along with it. There's also a fine documentary on Bowles available from Mystic Fire Video, PAUL BOWLES IN MOROCCO, that gives an informative portrait of this literary giant.
1990 140 minutes Rated: R CC.
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