Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Sheltering Sky

Movie Name: The Sheltering Sky
Year of Release: 1990
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Starring: Debra Winger, John Malkovich, Campbell Scott, Jill Bennett, Timothy Spall, Eric Vu-An, Amina Annabi
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Following the huge success of "The Last Emperor" in 1987, director Bernardo Bertolucci decided to tackle another story taking place in an unexpected locale, this time around, Northern Africa. The film is an adaptation of the novel by Paul Bowles, originally published in 1949. It follows the story of Kit and Port Moresby (who were in turn, thinly disguised versions of Paul Bowles and his wife, Jane), who arrive in Algeria in 1947. They're accompanied by Tunner, a young rich New Yorker, who is indeed a tourist, whereas the couple sees themselves as travelers (they plan on being in Africa for 2 years). Kit and Port are trying to overcome some relationship issues, and coming to a different setting, is something that they feel can re-energize their life and how they relate to each other. This re-awakening is towards each other, but also towards life itself. Kit rebuffs Tunner's romantic advances, while Port explores what the city has to offer. As they continue to explore and simultaneously get acquainted with other travelers, their lives starts taking a turn that will forever change them. 
"The Sheltering Sky" was a property that had been targeted to be adapted to the big screen for quite some time, until Bertolucci decided to tackle it. The director had in the past delivered richly layered films, such as "The Conformist", "Luna" and "Last Tango in Paris", and this novel seemed like a good fit for him. The film is possessed of a beauty that is undeniable, due to the simply superb cinematography from Vittorio Storaro (this is quite possibly one of the most stunningly captured films I have personally seen) and the equally fantastic score from Ryuichi Sakamoto. Where the film fails to engage, is the definition of the relationship between the central characters. There's a lack of nuance and depth to Debra Winger's portrayal of Kit, and her relationship with John Malkovich's Port is never conveyed or believable. There's no chemistry between the characters, and as the story progresses, we never really witness a journey of experience or even of all the tribulations producing any sort of awareness or comprehension on the lead characters, particularly Kit. As their reality unravels and their ordeals become more dramatic, what should have been captured in a somewhat desperate manner (such as what was illustrated by Alejandro G. Inarritu in "Babel"), never really achieves those heights. It's a film that while successfully capturing the remoteness of that universe and the longing to simultaneously be lost and found for some of the characters, it fails to ultimately make them humane. Not all characters need to be relatable to the audience, but their ordeals, challenges, dynamics have to at least be transposable in a way that they can be viewable and reachable. It's a film filled with promise, but hampered by a faulty casting (Bertolucci should have gone with Annette Bening or even Natasha Richardson). An unbalanced film from a sadly missed director.