THE SHELTERING SKY
(directed by Bernando Bertolucci, 1990)
**** (out of 5)
> Italian English language director Bernando Bertolucci makes fine films like THE LAST EMPEROR, LAST TANGO IN PARIS, and THE DREAMERS- and this is no exception.
. While a little stilted at times, (feeling more like a filmed novel than a movie), this is a big, sprawling film that aims high and often succeeds. The story: bored, the idle rich travel abroad to Algeria, bringing with them the privileged sense of entitlement they see as a birthright, and are changed forever by the experience. John Malkovich (younger, with wavy blonde hair) is very good. Debra Winger (young, sexy!), is even better. (I never got her appeal until now. She is lovely and fascinating to watch, and really, it’s her film.) As ever, British character actor Timothy Spall is a devilish delight as a dicey weasel of a simpering momma’s boy.
. As in all Bertolucci’s films, the production values are first rate. The cinematographer has a master’s touch, painting stunning images with light, color and movement. The vast, empty African vistas are jaw-droppingly rendered, and the film stubbornly refuses to follow a predictable arch. Something cataclysmic happens, which in any other movie would signal the closing credits, but here the story marches on, into unfamiliar territory that is completely absorbing to watch.
. Despite the occasional missteps (clumsy dialogue, distancing artifice), I can recommend this wholeheartedly, as a film with a sharp, vivid sense of time and place, featuring stunning locales, firecracker acting and a lingering tension that keeps you riveted to the screen. Bravo Bernando!
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