The Sheltering Sky–Book and Movie

I’m currently reading Paul Bowles’s The Sheltering Sky. I am so not the target audience for a book like this. However, it’s not too excruciating for me to finish, so that’s what I plan to do. And then I’ll write a blog post.
I saw the movie once on video about thirteen years ago. I remember it as being beautiful and boring. I don’t want to subject myself to watching it again, so I’ll post excerpts from this guy’s 1991 review of it:

“The Sheltering Sky” is the kind of “art” film that discriminating audiences either embrace or find incredibly boring and pretentious.

Based on Paul Bowles’ 1949 novel, the film focuses on Kit Moresby (played by Debra Winger) and, to a lesser extent, her husband, Port (John Malkovich), who are remnants of the postwar idle rich. They consider themselves intellectuals, noting that they are “travelers,” not “tourists.” They are also rather arrogant in their romantic notions about North Africa and seem to be in the dry-rot final stages of a disintegrating marriage.

In the novel, the husband, Port, is irritated that they expect him to fill in the “occupation” blank on his passport. Because he doesn’t have an occupation, and he’s proud of it.

Kit and Port explore North Africa in an attempt to understand the exotic and the forbidden, while becoming more self-indulgent along the way. Initially there seems to be a desire to save their marriage, but it becomes gradually less important the farther they get from the “civilized” world.

Eventually, a tragedy occurs — or is it? — plunging Kit into something akin to a state of shock as she links up with a wandering tribe and becomes a sex-slave of sorts.

Over the course of the film’s nearly 2 1/2 hours, Bertolucci seems more interested in painting pretty pictures than telling a story, and there are long stretches when even the most patient moviegoers will wonder if it’s worth all the vapid dialogue spouted by vapid characters. True, the pictures are very pretty, and there are some intriguing ideas set up periodically, but most of the way I just found the narrative tedious and the characters obnoxious.

It is no doubt quite difficult to portray self-indulgence without the work itself taking on an air of arrogance; and certainly “The Sheltering Sky” fails on that level, despite the impressive location photography, a fine score by Ryuichi Sakamoto and an excellent lead performance by Debra Winger.

More about the book and maybe the movie after I’ve finished the book.

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Filed under arab, arabist, books, movies and shows

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