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Travellers to Oblivion.,
This review is from: The Sheltering Sky [DVD] (DVD)Paul Bowles novel on which this film is based happens to be a favourite of mine. It is a guilty pleasure in that it most certainly enters soft porn territory, but given Bowles tremendous literary talent it is some very classy soft porn. But it is also rich in so much more. It is the story of a couples descent into oblivion and an almost Conradian trip into their own 'heart of darkness'. This makes for some very compelling reading, and also makes for a very good film in the hands of master storyteller Bernardo Bertolucci. We even have the unusual pleasure of seeing Bowles himself as the narrator. With two outstanding performers in Debra Winger and John Malkovich, and a film that was shot entirely in some exotic North African locations, we have a film to savour, and savour it I most certainly did.
The film starts with the three central characters arriving in North Africa. They arrive as travellers and not tourists. A tourist is dismissed as someone who no sooner than arriving at his destination thinks about when he will be returning home, whereas a traveller is someone who may never return. The couple Kit and Port Moresby clearly struggle with their relationship, whilst hanger on Tunner exacerbates this situation with his infatuation for Kit. The characters travels ever further into the Saharan hinterland where good hotels become very hard to find. It is not just the sand storms that the couple have to battle against, but their own inner demons.
First mention should go to the stunning cinematography making use of the spectacular Sahara desert in Niger, Algeria and Morocco. The spectacular shots of the great sand sea must have been taken with great difficulty given such difficult location conditions. But it was certainly worth it in what turns out to be a paen to the beauty of the great desert. Kit Moresby is a character I fell in love with in the book, and found it was just as easy to fall in love with Debra Winger as I watched her beautiful eyes staring out of the mysterious veil in the films climactic moments. Malkovich is deliciously dry as the ailing Port, both in spirit and body. Bertolucci builds up the atmosphere quite beautifully with music, coaxing some damn good performances from his cast, and extolling the harsh beauty of the ever pervading desert scenery. It is a film that seems to be forgotten by many, but is one that is ripe for rediscovery and a fresh viewing. It is the sort of film that will stand the test of time, and is well worth adding to your collection. The DVD also contains an interesting making of featurette, with Campbell Scott who plays Tunner, giving a nice comic turn.