I found this movie stunning. Visually compelling and emotionally harrowing. The director Bertolucci was nominated for a Golden Globe for this movie, and I can see why.
The film manages to capture what it is actually like travelling in Africa. I've been on a similar journey, and I found it quite scary, although somewhat cathartic to watch from the comfort of my own sofa, the gradual loss of identity and alienation we Westerners can feel surrounded by a landscape with such a strong presence and a culture that is so different.
This movie must have been very hard work to make. Shots such as Debra Winger going for a walk along a sand dune in perfect synchronisation with a train of camels in the background don't come easy, and yet look utterly natural.
I found Malkovitch's performance irritating, but compelling, and Debra Winger convincing too. The minor characters - which include the woman who plays the manager in Dinner Ladies - were a bit over-the-top, but provide a kind of grotesque comic relief - leering and unnerving.
The Africans, with their strong faces, haunting vocalising and monotonous music are the leit motif of the film. No sentimental, easy score here to accompany the desert. Just the real thing.
Although I haven't read the Paul Bowles' book, I am sure Bertolucci made a respectful and serious attempt to convey its meaning. He should have won the Golden Globe!