The Sheltering Sky (1990) Poster

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one of the most beautifully photographed films of the 90s, though if amazing imagery isn't lacking, plot is
Quinoa198414 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I always wonder what it might be like to have a film set in a location that is explicitly specific, with this film, as example, the Sahara desert and outlining areas of North Africa, and to not have some kind of Lawrence of Arabia kind of epic story attached to it. It's a challenge for a filmmaker to attempt, and Bernardo Bertolucci did attempt it in 1990 with the Sheltering Sky, based on the book that seems to be massively popular (though un-read by me). Whether he succeeded completely or not will depend on how much the viewer can take seeing characters sort of engulfed by the director and cinematographer's own adoration of the strange and bizarrely exotic locales.

The story is boiled down, probably more-so than was in the Bowles novel, about a husband and wife (Malkovich and Winger), and their friend (Scott), who go to "travel" in North Africa. For what precisely is uncertain, but it is clear that the focal point is that of their marriage failing after years together (both sides sleeping with others, distanced, not altogether honest in conversation).

But this changes, of course, once Paul gets typhoid and has a fever for the middle chunk of the film. After this, when a change of events occur, The Sheltering Sky gets even more surreal and sensual then before, if still slightly obtuse in how to really relay a good story. And it's not that Bertolucci is whacked out, like with La Luna, as a storyteller per-say. He actually progresses what there is involving the characters pretty well, and Malkovich and Winger are up to the task of playing people who are sort of bourgeois malcontents who get their respective states of mind altered through their travels of the fly-ridden villages and poor towns in the Sahara region.

But it seems like material, even for someone who hasn't read the book, to be more evocative as prose then as filmed, and the many customs and many little details of the villagers are left as more-so poetic aspirations than things relevant to the narrative. This all being said, The Sheltering Sky may possibly be Bertolucci's most astoundingly shot feature, with it coming right behind Goodfellas as the best cinematography of 1990 (via the great Vittorio Storaro). Shot after shot looks like it could come out of a truly exquisite book, and the dedication to compositions and long shots and how a close-up can be just as meaningful cinematically as a view of the desert, is the best that Bertolucci has to offer.

But then again, like with Antonioni when he's at his most scatter-shot, without characters who even subtly convey a lot, or with strong enough themes aside from the despair amid an alien environment (to the characters), it becomes the textbook case of style over substance. I'd recommend it, especially to fans of the director and DP, but I can understand the dismay that fans of the book had at the adaptation, despite the convincing performances and (as a given) the wonder of seeing places not seen before, like the not-filmed-before-this-film location of Niger.
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Grand meandering story about aimless people
SnoopyStyle17 July 2015
American couple Port (John Malkovich) and Kit Moresby (Debra Winger) see themselves as travelers looking for new experiences. They go to Tangier after the war with their friend George Tunner (Campbell Scott) who they see more as a tourist. Port is introduced to a prostitute and is robbed. Kit and George take a train trip. Port is jealous and follows them catching a ride with the Lyles (Jill Bennett, Timothy Spall).

It's a grand meandering story about being aimless. It's not just about being aimless but there is also a pointlessness about the movie. The location shoots are wonderfully exotic. Malkovich is chewing up the scenes and Spall is being weird. However the movie struggles to find a meaning.
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A feast for the senses
scotty125 November 2001
It's hard to understand why this film doesn't get better reviews. Yes of course it's a reflective arty film where evoking feelings is more important than narrative drive. The amount of nudity, though in keeping with the story, does perhaps hinder its being taken seriously by some.

Surely though it succeeds as well as any film has in painting a cinematic picture of the experience of being a stranger in a strange land? The cultural barriers, dissonances, language, the maze of similar streets - everything comes together to create the feeling of utter helplessness Kit experiences when she tries to get help for the ill Port. The confusing weird relationships, often only partially depicted in the film heighten the sense of being adrift in life.

Together with some of the best ever desert cinematography rivaling even Lawrence of Arabia, North African music, noises, characters and colors this film is a rich feast for the senses indeed. And what a wonderful final voice-over, one of the most deep and thought-provoking lines in all the movies.
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The Star of the Film is The Sahara
katiekeene22 May 2006
Bernardo Bertolucci co-wrote and directed the film of the classic post WW2 novel by author, Paul Bowles, who also narrates.

The opening shot (after the credits roll over 1947 New York City and a ship disembarks from its port) is of Port's (John Malkovich) face as he awakens in a North African hotel room, the same scene that opens in the novel. Debra Winger is her most attractive as his young wife,'Kit.' They are accompanied by a randy travel companion, 'Tunner.'

The "casbah" atmosphere of the Moslem city's narrow stone streets, flooded with Arab denizens, camels, livestock invites the viewer in.

As soon as the odious "Mrs. Lyle" and her sweaty, overweight son came into the fly-ridden hotel lobby in the hot sultry desert nowhere, I knew I'd love to hate them.

John Malkovich is seduced by a street-smart, young Arab who beckons him to follow through dark streets into a girl prostitute's desert tent. (live chickens inside are a wonderful touch.)

The Sheltering Sky is a good representation of the novel. The book's narrative of setting, characters, and plot is dramatically envisioned and colored by the reader's point of view and imagination. We literally make the story ours; so when we watch the film version, we tend to judge the director's interpretation seriously.

Bertolucci's vision was entertaining and realized well, especially the lead character: the vast Sahara Desert, and exotic ambiance; the cinematography was beautiful. i look forward to watching it on DVD.
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Last Tango in Morocco
mjneu592 January 2011
Two post-WWII Manhattan sophisticates who travel to avoid standing still embark on a soul-searching expedition into the Sahara Desert, where the beautiful but desolate landscapes provide a mirror to their own troubled relationship. The film is nothing if not exotic, presenting some of the purest visions of the desert since Peter O'Toole first rode a camel in 'Lawrence of Arabia'. But the scenario works best when presented as an ethnic travelogue, ushering viewers into an utterly foreign world. The messy marital plot conflicts are, by comparison, all rather vague, especially after Debra Winger goes native in a Bedouin harem. The story never really finds an ending, because there isn't anything to resolve: the characters all exist in a (handsomely photographed) vacuum, and their motivations are even more mysterious than the Arab culture surrounding them. The intrusive (and, as usual, unnecessary) voice-over narration is by novelist Paul Bowles himself, briefly glimpsed in the film's opening scenes.
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Looks good but the plot struggles to hold before eventually just being hard work
bob the moo28 March 2004
Port and Kit Moresby are travellers who come to North Africa to spend a year or so. With them travels a friend, George Tunner. Their journey hides the gradual breakdown of their relationship - a fact that is only highlighted when Port visits an Arab prostitute and Kit sleeps with Tunner after a drunken train journey together.

Before you sit down to see this film, you really need to have asked yourself what sort of mood you are in. Are you looking for a fast film, something entertaining and slick to distract you from life, or provide background noise in the room while you iron? If you are looking for such a movie then there must be thousands of action movies and comedies that you can watch. If you are in a contemplative mood or are able to accept the story that comes at you no matter how slow or difficult to get into then you may as well give this a stab. The film focuses on the relationship between Kit and Port, a relationship that has been crumbling for many years before we are brought into the story. The film then uses the journey as a journey of them both and, ultimately, Kit to find more about themselves, each other and their lives.

If this sounds straightforward then forgive me, for it is not. The film doesn't help; it is difficult to get into the story because at times it doesn't seem to really be about anything. It is not so bad for the majority of the film, but Kit's wander in the last 30 minutes is difficult because it seems to be going nowhere and not be connected to the emotions that we only assume she might be feeling. This is the main problem with the film - not so much the slow pace but the fact that it could be running but it wouldn't matter because it would still feel like it isn't actually going anywhere. It is possible to take something from this film but the actual intension was lost on me - when the final lines of dialogue came I hoped they would be as a torch in a dark room - but they only served to lose me that much more. I hate arty films when they seem to revel in their sheer impenetrateability, sadly that seemed to be the case here.

Malkovich and Winger are both very good; they acted wounded and hurt very well within their veneer of respectability and normalcy. It's a shame that, although their performances help us get into Kit & Port's relationship, they are unable to help us understand (or care) when the film begins to become `deeper' than that. Scott is quite interesting but underused, although Spall and Bennett are reasonably good. The star here is the desert, and it looks great. For all his faults as a storyteller here, Bertolucci can frame a shot, producing a great sense of place as well as some really gorgeous travelogue moments. If that's your thing (a `deep' and beautiful film) then you'll be OK, but I needed some emotional buy in or at least something approaching a narrative that could be easily followed with a bit of thought.

Overall this is an interesting but ultimately frustrating film. It looks great and it all seems very worthy, but where it goes was beyond me. I enjoyed watching it as it forced me to think instead of just vegging out (like so many other films do) but at the end of the day I was left wondering if this was artistic posturing on a big scale or if it really did have an emotional core that I just couldn't reach.
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Read the book
richy2927 April 2004
This is one of my all time favorite movies. But... and this is a major but... at least part of my appreciation stems from the fact that I watched it several times and that I've also read the book (by Paul Bowles) two or three times. So both works of art (since the book is most definitely a work of great art) tend to blend together in my mind.

I started by watching the movie though, without any previous knowledge on the novel, nor on Paul Bowles. I was impressed by the powerful imagery (theater! not dvd) and chilled by psychological the harshness of the plot. I was charmed the first time I saw the film but I fell in love when I saw it a second time, which was after I'd read the novel. Maybe this means that the film doesn't 'make it on its own', but to me that's not a problem. And if you are, like me, gripped by the movie I can really recommend the novel for more 'in depth' .

Some people here seem to think that there's no plot or just a very thin one. I disagree. It's not directly on the surface though. You'll have to concentrate and pay attention to dig it up. If you don't like that or feel that a movie should just willingly present itself to you, than this is not your movie.
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For me an initiation
yogalandau15 October 2000
Please do not read this review if you have not yet seen the film, because I find it necessary to discuss elements of the film which reveal the plot.

The whole film was for me a long introduction into the silence of myself. I like the desert a lot, am not afraid of the void, when the mind can finally be still. Port also actually came home to Africa. He was ready to die, ready to leave behind his intellectuality, to get rid of the inner mess that was himself. Although he seemed unconscious of it, his inner soul brought him by force to his own roots. When in delirium his hands dance happily, demanding the music to continue, to push him through and out of this existence, Kit is left aside and alone, madness kissing her forehead for the first time, unable to stop the approaching avalanche which will sweep over both of their lives, leaving one dead. Kit, one must feel going to a foreign country to mate again with the mate with whom you, through so many silly, careless incidents, have lost essential contact - and to suddenly find him dead and silent lying in front of you in the vastness of an indifferent desert. The desert we all live in unawares. "Oh, God, what have I done, how could I have allowed this to go so far?" Suddenly she wakes up to notice the immense impact of nothingness.

Her mind broken, she goes off with a Bedouin, and this is actually what I like most about the film. It allows me to let my mind break too, traveling with her through the desert, mostly listening to the silent sound of camels and bells and voices crying out in a strange unknown language.

Some of the professional critics didn't to go down that path. They need their thoughts to run incessantly, .. for them it must have certainly been a threatening movie, or so their comments would suggest.
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Storaro's cinematography makes the desert appear blue
Nazi_Fighter_David17 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
"The Sheltering Sky" is a road movie and a love story… Its real subject is very simple: Is it possible for two people to share the same dream and to exist as a couple? It's a simple story of two complicated people who love each other deeply, but can't be happy in love… So in the first part of the movie we see how the joy of life vanishes, and in the second part how the joy of death begins…

Debra Winger identifies with lead "Kit" passionate and seductive character… She, at least, feels the need to communicate… At times she feels undesirable, even unwanted and unloved… But this isn't easy to do with Port… Malkovich has a completely different approach to Port… He simply falls into the character… In his dark eyes we can see clearly the suffering of the memory and the pain of remembrance… Port's illness is an unspeakable solitude… He doesn't need anybody or anything to face the challenge of life… He feels he's sufficient to the task but we clearly feel his strong attraction to nothingness… Kit and Port know that they dearly love each other, but they just feel condemned, condemned to be together forever…

Bernardo Bertolucci planned the film in two sections: The solar part belongs to Port and the lunar connected to Kit
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a truly wonderful and poignant film that has everything.
cataclyzm6831 March 2006
At some point in the last 100 years.....there is one film that is likely to stand out as truly exceptional. Not surprisingly, such a film might not be well received by the critics or even be a great success at the box office. True brilliance finds its own place in people's hearts and this film has every ingredient to make it the kind of film people will talk about in a hundred years time. Unlike so many films "created" today with lacklustre characters and inept and one dimensional acting - the sheltering sky is moving and funny and ingenious because it offers true artistic and moving portrayals of the ending of a long term relationship amidst the kind of locations the most adventurous backpacker might not know about. Every film is about human meaning and should guide us to know what the author felt and experienced. Somehow the sheltering sky reaches into your heart by honestly portraying the emotions of the complexity of loving another human being. It isn't pretentious or dull as dishwasher art house cinema. It belongs in a category of its own and to anyone who loves beautiful art and poignant and moving story's that go beyond the solar plexus: you will truly love and treasure the experience of this work of art that so many failed to "get". Yes....good films happen. Great films occur from time to time....but the Sheltering sky is neither of these two is the most honest and beautiful and emotionally mature work of cinema that I have ever seen. This film makes us feel good about being human...because it shows us how flawed and wonderful we are despite our lack of honesty even with ourselves. The sheltering sky will break your heart and and bring you to life. It will lift you and make you feel like repainting the cistine chapel. It is a brave and noble friend of a film...that wants us to see beauty and pain in all its glory. If you've never seen it......I wish I were you watching it for the first time again. Go get it.! Robert. ps. if you've read the book....don't watch it! no film is going to match your own interpretation of a favourite book...but this movie stands on its own two feet and with some grace at that.
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The Setting Were Gorgeous, The Film Was Unsettling
eric26200327 October 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Based on the novel by Paul Bowles, "The Sheltering Sky" is the story of rekindling one's marriage is one of the greatest pieces of 20th century literature. When I rented the movie, I was even more flabbergasted when I saw the DVD cover sleeve and discovered that well-known Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci was behind the lenses. The desert settings were the perfect locality for a film of this calibre which resembles that of "Lawrence of Arabia" or cinematic classics like "The English Patient". Even though Bertolucci and his cinematographer Vittorio Storaro have physically made this film visual eye-candy, there are other traits that have an equally proportionate share of hits and misses.

As it hurts me to say this, the biggest flaws lie in the balance of the two leads (John Malkovich and Debra Winger) who play the roles of Port and Kit Moresby, a duo of self-absorbed wealthy New Yorkers who travel to Tangiers, Morocco to spruce up some adventure to fix up their progressively crumbling marriage. Port and Kit pompously refer to themselves as "travelers" over tourists towards their somewhat mutual friend George Tunner (Campbell Scott), who has a subtle attraction to Kit. The triad bring an unnecessary amount of luggage and that it becomes clear that style outweighs substance as the trifecta just wander about without any kind of purpose other than the fact that they're just reeking in their wealth.

The Moresby's are caricatures that spell out F. Scott Fitzgerald, they're in their 30's, flamboyant, condescending and have no cares for any kind of moral decency. Poor casting choice for Malkovich as the cultivated intelligent trying to gather his ideas in a setting that doesn't quite comprehend to an atmosphere where every foundation of him is quickly crumbling before his very eyes. Malkovich has none of the physical characteristics described in Bowles' novel let alone the immaculate mannerisms portrayed there either. His light monotone voice and his use of throwaways are opposed to the well polished dialogue from Bowles' novel. Malkovich is great at portraying macabre characters and brings that level with him in a lot of his performances, but Port is not at all like that. Sure he's self-righteous and unsympathetic, but he's not in any way shape or form diabolical.

Debra Winger as Kit is a tad bit better though as her narrative is the focal point of the story. But she also seems physically wrong for the part. Where was Meryl Streep at the time? Bowles' novel called for a fair, vulnerable, fragile woman in the opening scenes of the book. Winger seems too play off Kit as a bold, strong-willed character. Her efforts to play it calculating seems at times quite contrived and very ridiculous complete with her raspy laugh and her ample limbs. She seems too independent-minded that's contrary to the character of Kit from the novel. Her Midwestern ways are opposite and seems out of place to the upper-class traits Kit portrays in the book. Sure at first she looks authentic to the characters in the book, but once she and Port wander aimlessly in the desert, her physical and mental demeanor are more Winger than Kit as opposed to the other way around.

The supporting characters like Campbell Scott, Timothy Spall and Jill Bennett are quite convincing in their respected roles and seems to upstage the leads at times. The score by Ryuichi Sakamoto is quite thrilling, but at the same time very jarring. The dialogue can be very overwhelming and their motives are blank. The author(who plays a blind man at a bar) provides the narration. But the story of his journey feels more inferior than exterior and the translation of what he's talking about is quite complex. To put in a nutshell, it's better to read the novel first before getting into the book so you'll get a better comparison of the differences between the novel and the visually satisfying, but poorly executed adaptation.
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Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro's love letter to Morocco
ursulahemard21 February 2012
Not exactly a Biopic in the proper sense of the word, but an adaption of the autobiographical and massively dramatised novel by the American author, composer and translator Paul Frederic Bowles (December 30, 1910 – November 18, 1999). In 1947 Bowles settled in Morocco, with his wife, Jane Bowles (February 22, 1917 – May 4, 1973) who was an American writer and playwright in her own right. Not having read the book, it's too difficult to me to comment on its truthfulness, however we know that Paul Bowles was cooperating with the screenwriters, it is he who is narrating the film and even appears in a cameo role. It's the story about a couple's search for stimulation not only within their fading passion and closeness but also for their creativity and productivity. Ultimately, from the personal point of view, this turns out to be a sad enterprise, thinking that the constant traveling and external visual changes would rekindle their evaporated love and disconnection; it's a shortsighted forced-upon chase after illusions.

John Malkovich and Debra Winger are not the usual Hollywood-like physically attractive love couple 'a la Barbie and Ken' nevertheless it was beautifully exciting to watch them perpetually connect and disconnect mentally and physically. As soon as the protagonist dies, that's when the biopic turns into fiction, as Bowles kept on living till 1999. I was wondering if he wrote this scenario as a sort of a metaphor reflecting on his own life and dismantling relationship.

From the famous and truly extraordinary Italian cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro's view, this is a declaration of love to Morocco and its impressive and breathtaking landscapes, culture and nomadic life; a magnificent visual feast and one may even smell all the spices, swatting flies, feel the grit of sand between the teeth, start sweating and get one's blood boiling, not only due to the local heat but also to the carnal sultriness, whilst watching the screen!

Full frontal nudity and a few sensual yet tasteful very erotic scenes and therefore I rate it 16+.

The gorgeous main-theme of the soundtrack is a total tearjerker to me...for sentimentalists only!

Noticed that they drink a lot of MUMM Champagne, oh! how French, and that Eric Vu-An, famous Ballet dancer and ex Etoile de L'Opera de Paris had a secondary very seductive role in this typical Bertolucci epic.
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Beautiful portrait of an American couple
stephan-174 July 1999
Bernardo Bertolucci does not really make fast-paced movies, let's face it. But very often (The Last Emperor, Last Tango in Paris, La Luna,) they're beautifully crafted character studies set in amazing landscapes. Bertolucci also handles his cast with great talent and the performances delivered by actors in his movies are always intense. Here Debra Winger is captivating, and aptly supported by John Malkovich and a strong supporting cast. The story slowly unfolds itself, and the nuances in the script, dialogue, cinematography and acting are splendid. The throughout subtle presence of Paul Bowles adds great melancholy. When I first saw it on the big screen, I left the theater in a state of total despair, because the characters are so miserable.
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An unequivocally beautiful movie that shouldn't be faulted for not quite living up to the novel, but I can't help it
Ham_and_Egger25 March 2006
The Sheltering Sky is frankly a psychological masterpiece and one of the densest books I've ever read, but it has a fairly simple plot. The film adequately reenacts the plot. but can't really convey what it is that makes the novel so exquisite.

That's not to say Bertolucci and his contributors, especially cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, don't deserve a lot of credit for their work. This should probably be accepted as the industry standard for filming the scenery of North Africa. The title alone should tell you you're in for rich cinematography and in my opinion this is absolutely necessary to the telling of the story, but the scenery does tend to overwhelm the story at times.

Malkovich and Winger both give credible performances, but they seemed like strangers to me compared to the characters in the novel. Likewise the casting of the Lyles was excellent, but their role seemed abbreviated. I found Paul Bowles himself to be a captivating screen presence, though he's only on screen briefly as the narrator.

Ultimately the film is worth watching but constantly reminded me of the discrepancy between the two media, which isn't exactly an endearing quality.
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An American married couple set out a journey to Morroco to save their marriage. However, things do not go as planned.
sadeozturk22 May 2016
Warning: Spoilers
A movie about women and men relationship, discovering distant land, finding some missing part of soul and orientalist perspective to non-western cultures. When you watch the story of Port and Kit, you question yourself. Bertolucci presents gloomy loneliness within a marriage.On the other side, you realize the importance of love on the verge of death.

According to me,two movie scenes are so striking.First one: Port defines the distinction between tourist and traveler at the beginning of the movie:''Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler, belonging no more to one place than the next, moves slowly, over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another.'' He defines himself as a traveler. Second one, Port criticizes our perception about time with these words :''"How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless." Perhaps less than twenty.

All the desert scenes, impressive songs, dialogues makes the movie attractive. Unexpected situations shows that life is so fragile. As a result, I enjoyed watching it.
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starts good then comes the relentless boredom
tomcat9146827 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
OK, it's beautifully filmed and one really feels the dirt, grit and flies on the face. It puts you there, but soon the viewer understands this is a sand voyage to nowhere. They delve into characters that one does not want to get to know. Pointless character analysis into people who will learn nothing and continue into worse and more tiresome squalor until they are stopped by death, insanity or futility. The last hour becomes a marathon for the viewer who has already hit the wall of pain and feels they can go on no more. Why did I continue to the bitter, bitter end? I became like the characters on the screen who would get to the finish line that was never there. Why did Winger's character take off with the Bedoins? Why did any of them do anything they did for no purpose whatsoever?!
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the challenge of adapting a movie after a book
cosxon4919 December 2010
The Sheltering sky was considered a heavy book, heavy as importance, for the so called beat in my opinion, taking the story of Paul Bowles and adapting it to a movie was a real challenge...despite the simple storyline that everyone notices, the book/movie has deeper meanings...i watched the movie a lot of times and having read the book made me see better the B.Bertolucci hand...trying to create the place for actually an internal bleeding, a deep hurtful feeling, both Bowles and Bertolucci have to use the symbolism of the desert's vanity...and the inner searches go very well with the message of the traveler who refuses to be just a tourist, setting a line to separate the meaningful from the meaningless...READ the book and then be impressed by the adds that Bertolucci makes, just to give you a very personal approach... "You are so alone..."- a beautiful way to end the journey of Port, Kit and Tunner...
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The Stifling Sky!
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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Under rated
Randolph2121 March 2009
I agree that this film is very under rated. I have seen this film 3 times. Once at the Chicago Film Festival, Second in General release, and third on Laser Disc. I have to say that the version that was shown at the Chicago Film Festival was about 30 minutes longer than the general release version, and the Laser disc version. (I am assuming that the tape and DVD Version are the same as the Laser disc version and general release version) I think it would be great if there could be a Directors Cut version released that included all of the parts of the film that was cut from the general release version. The cinematography was just great and the acting was superior! It should have won an Oscar or two!
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Hilariously pretentious...I loved it!!!
Falconeer17 January 2007
Your know what you're in for as soon as you see the shot of John Malkovich's penis dangling in your face in extreme close-up. Bertolucci is a director who has always liked to shock with his subject matter and graphic sexual depictions. "Last Tango" sure caused a lot of controversy in it's day, although today that film comes across as terribly dated and pretentious. And with the gorgeous 'La Luna", one of his lesser-known works, and also my favorite from Bertolucci, his depiction of a highly sexualized mother/son relationship made many uncomfortable. So much so that the film has yet to get a video release in the States. To make things more controversial, the son is 15 years old, and a heroin addict. I realize the "The Sheltering Sky" is not a comedy, but for some strange reason whenever i watch this film i alternate between being transfixed by the films sheer beauty, and rolling fitfully on the floor in hysterics! Debra Winger is superb as 'Kit' and John Malkovich portrays 'Port' with sensitivity, even though he is a man given to self-indulgence and is not above cheating on his wife. Kit & Port are two Americans traveling through Africa, in search of some enlightenment, or happiness. They are adults, but seem sometimes as spoiled children, enjoying and grasping at life's pleasures, and this makes it fun to watch, and to be a part of their adventures. Their friend 'Tunner' travels with them, but he doesn't seem quite as thrilled to be in a land without the Western comforts. He is a good-looking chap as well, younger and perhaps more sexually potent than 'Port', and there is some interesting tension there. Port suspects sexual goings on between Kit and Port, even before something actually happens. When he returns home, (from a rendezvous with a prostitute) and finds Tunner in their hotel room, his reaction is similar to that of a little boy finding his mother breast feeding a playmate . Many have said that the final part of the film, where Winger's character loses her mind and is wandering through the desert with the caravan, is the most boring part of the film. I think this is when the film really takes off. With no dialog at all for the final 40 or so minutes, Kit's despair, isolation, and confusion at being left to fend for herself in a strange, and increasingly hostile land, is palpable. For some reason unknown to me, the scenes of Winger in the birka, wandering through the desert frequently had me in hysterics!?! The look of complete and utter despair on her dirty face was perhaps just too over-the -top for me. But honestly, the film has it's moments of intentional comic relief. My favorite line is when Winger slurs :"I'm weeping for my gin and tonic", and when she wakes up in bed with Tunner after a champagne drinking binge, and remembers nothing. She frantically throws him out of her room, then beckons him back and asks for another bottle of champagne. It was funny to see how each character dealt with their discomforts and fears. And i must say, it is hard to take matters seriously, in spite of some wonderful dialog, when Malkovich and Winger are making love outdoors, him speaking of life philosophies while his butt was pumping up and down. From the look on their faces, and the way they were speaking, they sounded like they were sitting in a coffee shop or a restaurant, instead of frantically banging away! But despite the unintentional humor i found in "The Sheltering Sky" the film's power and majesty did not slip by me. I actually love this film, on so many levels. With such characters it never gets boring, despite it's length. I found myself howling for joy whenever the creepy mother/son duo appeared! That sweaty, 40 something mommas boy, and that red-headed hag have my undivided attention every time i see this! And the end is beautiful and touching as well. I'm sure everyone who watches this film to the end comes away with their own individual understanding of what it all means. Few films leave so much up to the viewer to fill in the blanks for themselves. I think this is a good thing. Highly recommended!
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Bertolucci at his BEST!
vdg26 January 2004
Well, after seeing this magnificent movie for the first on DVD, I blame myself for not going into the theater to see it! This film is best viewed on a HUGE screen! Almost a half of this movie is wordless, but the music makes it up to bring you in a strange mood. Regardless of some minor flaws, Bertolucci manages to transport you in world were love and self discovery are tight together in order to create a mesmerizing experience... Is very hard to be coherent about this movie, because is hard to comment on the simple facts of life, somewhere in Africa and not only. For me, this movie made me think a lot about what am I doing with my life sometimes, even though the director probably didn't plan this kind of effect on the viewers:) Too many words saying nothing just take the movie and watch it in low dim light, on a BIG screen, and with loud sound, so you can recreate a beautiful world!
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a complex artistic performance
balex10 September 2000
I like the alternative title of the movie, "Il Tè nel deserto", for the movie tells something about the desert and its people. And it does it wonderfully through images that may remind those seen in "The English Patient". The story however is special and I would say makes the movie not too commercial. The two artists: Port (John Malkovich) and Kit Moresby (Debra Winger), feel free and at ease in this world, under the sky that protects them from the unknown space beyond. They leave behind the life they knew and they try to leave behind their friend, Tanner, which may represent the values of that life style. They travel almost without a plan, if the plan is not to meet the unknown. There is beauty, harmony and danger in the desert, which is worth seeing. And like a parable for life - even if it seems empty as the desert it is worth living, for there is always the ultimate attraction of the unknown. Highly aesthetical, this movie is like a complex artistic performance.
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One of the worst films I have ever sat thought
Shane_777726 November 2003
This is one of the worst films I have ever seen, it is all so the only film that I almost walked out of, the only thing that kept me there was the cinematography which was excellent. When I first see it I put the poor sound down to the cinema but I have seen it again an yes it did have the annoying background sound most of all when the chanting starts. It is also overly long and drawn-out but then again so is the book.
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geekerr20 September 2020
Epic long winding movie about this crazy journeylife and its twists and turn anguish and ecstasty.Incredible experience and photography of the Sahara Desert.Superb background ...made one feel like they were in North Africa
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An intimate epic and one of Bertolucci's most underrated films.
MOscarbradley4 September 2018
As photographed by the great Vittorio Storaro, Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Sheltering Sky" is one of the most visually beautiful films ever made, almost every frame a painting in light. It is based on the novel by Paul Bowles about an American couple travelling in North Africa and trying to rekindle any passion that might have been in their marriage. Unfortunately, that flame seems to have been extinguished a long time ago. They are brilliantly played by Debra Winger and John Malkovitch, both at their very best. They have in tow a handsome young American, (Campbell Scott, excellent) and on their travels they meet an eccentric British couple, (Jill Bennett and Timothy Spall), and then there is the handsome young Arab, (Eric Vu-An), that Winger succumbs to. Bowles himself pops up now and then to comment on the action.

It is a slow and cerebral film. Neither Winger nor Malkovitch say very much but convey their feelings in the way they interact with each other. Of course, for a great deal of the time it is impossible to tell if they really love each other or if they simply need each other or if they need each other at all and again, thanks to Storaro, it has all the beauty of a travelogue even if the vast alien landscapes and the appalling conditions in which they find themselves are more likely to put you off visiting North Africa. It is also one of Bertolucci's most underrated films, an intimate epic on the transcience of human relationships and the need to go looking for ourselves in the most unlikeliest of places.
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