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USA 1990
Directed by
Bernardo Bertolucci
137 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Sheltering Sky

Wonderful cinematography by veteran Vittorio Storaro along with superb production standards under what would have been challenging conditions create a sense of time and place in a way with which few films can compare. Dramatically however this romance à trois goes nowhere but on and on to its dispirited conclusion.

Based on a novel by Paul Bowles who appears here as the mysterious man in the bar and also as narrator, the story involves three Americans, all F. Scott Fitzgerald-ish jeunesses dorées (John Malkovich, Debra Winger and Campbell Scott) who arrive in North Africa shortly after WWII in search of the exotic. Rich and bored, they amuse themselves with back-biting and infidelity whilst mixing with the locals, their relationship gradually coming apart at the seams.

This description is less a reflection of Bowles’s novel, which was adapted for the screen by Bertolucci with Mark Peploe, than the gulf between the epic scale of Bertolucci’s film and the aimless carryings on of the main characters. We can see what is at stake here, the affectations and bad faith of bourgeois normality and all that, and both Winger and Malkovich are good in the main roles (unfortunately the usually reliable Tim Spall over-acts gruesomely as a simpering alcoholic) but nothing they do comes close to matching the spectacular indifference of their harsh surrounds, an outcome which leaves the audience in pretty much the same condition.

DVD Extras: Audio commentary by Bertolucci; a making-of feature, Desert Roses, behind-the scenes footage; original theatrical trailer.

Available from: Umbrella Entertainment




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