Paul Bowles, who wrote the novel The Sheltering Sky, famously wrote, “It should never have been made into a movie. The ending is idiotic and the rest is pretty bad.”
“Sky” is narrated by Bowles, and he still hated it, but did he have time to sit in an editing room and narrate it?
We start by watching three young travelers disembark from a steamer with a huge pile of luggage, some of which I’m sure belonged to Tom Hanks in the great 1990 comedy Joe Against the Volcano, which is so uneven, by the way was actually a very funny movie starring Meg Ryan in three parts and Abe Vigoda in The Godfather.
Among the three travelers is fine actress Debra Winger (this year’s winner of the festival’s Mid-Life Achievement Award), who is miscast as Kit here. Add to that the always overrated John Malkovich as port and the still youthful Campbell Scott as tuner.
Famed Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci (“Last Tango in Paris” and the much better “The Last Emperor”) directed the film, which was shot in Niger, Tangier and Morocco, where I can tell you it’s practically impossible to get a cherry coke and a decent bagel.
Bernardo leads this trio through the endless, sandy, fly-infested deserts of Algeria, through sickness and health, trial and error, and sexual adventures in search of the meaning of this film.
Kit and Port, not exactly the hottest on-screen couple in film history, are wealthy gay intellectuals I assume are based on author Paul Bowles and his wife Jane, who share a flair for great Abercrombie and Fitch desert clothing. I will say that Winger has given the last half hour an erotic jolt.
Not being a particularly avid Bertolucci fan and not familiar with the book, I simply viewed “Sky” as the journey of two life-bored intellectuals undertaking a long, lumbering trek through a vast sandy void with no destination in mind .
The fabled TE Lawrence at least had Aqaba and Jose Ferrer.
All of this brings us to the only reason to witness Bertolucci’s painful journey, the glorious views of Vittorio Storaro.
Sheltering Sky was saved for a good chunk of time by the incredible vision of cinematographer Storaro, who magically colored Bertolucci’s The Conformist to life and dazzled us with The Last Emperor, nearly driving Francis Ford Coppola insane . Filming for “Apocalypse Now”.
It was Coppola who said, “Vittorio is the only man I’ve ever known who could fall off a ladder into the mud in a white suit and not get dirty.”
And I should add that Warren Beatty’s “Reds” kept moving.
It’s Storaro’s magic lantern that kept me awake during “Sky”. If I were to meet Vittorio one day, I would ask him where he got all those flies from. You’ll see what I mean.
Another plus for “Sky” is the haunting soundtrack by Richard Horowitz and Ryuichi Sakamoto.
You may be as amused as I was when I found out that Bertolucci wanted William Hurt for port, Melanie Griffith for Kit and Dennis Quaid for Tunner.
Well nobody is perfect.
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