Paul Bowles' classic 1949 novel of a journey into emptiness has been visualized with intense beauty by the creative team of The Last Emperor. But those who haven't read the book will be left bewildered.

Paul Bowles’ classic 1949 novel of a journey into emptiness has been visualized with intense beauty by the creative team of The Last Emperor. But those who haven’t read the book will be left bewildered.

John Malkovich and Debra Winger play Port and Kit Moresby, Americans traveling without destination or itinerary in postwar North Africa. Their 10-year marriage is unraveling while their opportunistic companion, Tunner (Campbell Scott), looks on.

They press on through Tangiers, Niger and Algeria, moving with a perverse sense of purpose further from comfort, ego and the signposts of the familiar. Pic boils down to the existential love story between Kit and Port, who are groping through the ruins of their infidelities toward whatever is left between them when all is lost.

In a marvelous directorial conceit, Bowles himself, 80 years old, watches his characters from a seat in a Tangiers cafe.

Malkovich is an excellent choice as Port, his shifting, centaur-like physicality filling in for the interior life the screen can’t provide. Aside from her resemblance to writer Jane Bowles, who inspired Kit, Winger is less interesting to watch.

At the end, familiar language completely disappears, as shell-shocked Kit wanders into the desert and becomes a sex slave to the wandering Tuareg leader Belqassim (played by Eric Vu-An of the Paris Ballet).

The Sheltering Sky

UK - Italy

Production

Thomas. Director Bernardo Bertolucci; Producer Jeremy Thomas; Screenplay Mark Peploe, Bernardo Bertolucci; Camera Vittorio Storaro; Editor Gabriella Cristiani; Music Ryuichi Sakamoto, Richard Horowitz; Art Director Gianni Silvestri

Crew

(Color) Widescreen. Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1990. Running time: 137 MIN.

With

John Malkovich Debra Winger Campbell Scott Jill Bennett Timothy Spall Eric Vu-An
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