Paul Bowles, who penned the novel “The Sheltering Sky,” famously wrote: “It should never have been filmed. The ending is idiotic and the rest is pretty bad.”

“Sky” is narrated by Bowles, and he still hated it, yet he had time to sit in a cutting room and narrate it?

We begin by watching three young voyagers getting off a steamer, with a massive pile of luggage, some of which I am sure belonged to Tom Hanks in the great 1990 comedy “Joe Versus the Volcano,” which, by the way, uneven as it was, was actually a very funny film and featured Meg Ryan, doing three parts, and Abe Vigoda of “The Godfather.”

The three travelers include the very good actor Debra Winger (this year’s Mid-Life Achievement Award winner at the festival), who is miscast here as Kit. There’s also the always overrated John Malkovich as Port and the still juvenile Campbell Scott hanging around the edges, as Tunner.

The storied Italian film maker 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 takes this trio across the endless, sandy, fly infested wastes of Algeria, through sickness and health, trial and error, and sexual adventures in search for the meaning of this film.


Kit and Port, not exactly the hottest screen couple in movie history, are wealthy, homosexual intellectuals, based, I assume, on the author Paul Bowles and wife Jane, who share a flair for great Abercrombie and Fitch desert attire. I will say that Winger gave the final half hour some erotic jolt.

Not particularly a devoted fan of Bertolucci, and unacquainted with the book, I simply viewed “Sky” as the voyage of two bored with life intellectuals making one long, ponderous trek through a vast sandy nothingness, with no destination in mind.

The fabled T.E. Lawrence at least had Aqaba and Jose Ferrer.

All of which brings us to the only reason to sit through Bertolucci’s painful voyage, the glorious views by Vittorio Storaro.

“Sheltering Sky” was saved for a good part of the time by the incredible vision of cinematographer Storaro, who kept Bertolucci’s “The Conformist” alive with magical color, and dazzled us with “The Last Emperor” and almost drove Francis Ford Coppola crazy, filming “Apocalypse Now.”

It was Coppola who said, “Vittorio is the only man I ever knew that could fall off a ladder in a white suit, into the mud, and not get dirty.”


And I should add, kept Warren Beatty’s “Reds” moving.

It is Storaro’s magic lantern that kept me awake throughout “Sky.” If I get to meet Vittorio someday I would ask him where he got all those flies. You’ll see what I mean.

Another plus for “Sky” is Richard Horowitz and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s haunting score.

You might be amused as I was when I found that Bertolucci wanted William Hurt for Port, Melanie Griffith for Kit, and Dennis Quaid for Tunner.

Well, nobody’s perfect.

J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.