Monday, November 9, 2009
"a solid sky as if it's protecting us from what's behind it"
Sheltering Sky, a film Bertolucci made right after the success of The Last Emperor, presents an affluent American couple- Port(John Malkovitch) and Kit(Debra Winger) who are together, yet so far away. In order to be closer to each other, they embark on a journey of an extreme kind, from New York to Saharan Africa. With a third wheel, rich, young, handsome but 'incredibly dull' Tunner(Campbell Scott) in tow, they move from one town to the next, more foreign and remote in turn, into the interior of the dry part of the continent. At arrival, answering Tunner's clueless question on the difference between a tourist and a traveler, first Port, then Kit answers forebodingly, "A tourist is the one who thinks about returning home as soon as he arrives. As for a traveler, he might never return." "I'm both" Kit adds.
There are quite few films that use vast exterior as a stand-in for character's inner struggle, but none like this. Based on the Paul Bowles' novel, Sheltering Sky the film lacks some of the feverish hallucination of Port as he lay dying in the middle of nowhere, but Storaro's cinematography more than makes up for it with stunning vistas: half solid blue sky and half bright yellow desert.
What I really love about the film is that it presents two people in love but can't express it properly in spectacular manner, but not in societal, post-war-bourgeoisie-mocking way. Port is perhaps John Malkovitch's snide best- arrogant, snappy and otherworldly yet vulnerable, a man who is truly alone in the world. Kit, a woman weighed down by guilt, incapable of connecting with her true love, is played with dignity by radiant Debra Winger. There are many heartbreaking moments in the film but none like when Port is in his deathbed, grappling at loneliness and Kit trying desperately to save him.
The film takes a turn and becomes Kit's journey through the desert. She is finally unhinged and finally becomes a traveler, taking in her surroundings without prejudices or judgments, trying to find a comfort in many strange men's arms. Winger's portrayal is daring and Bertolucci's version gives more depth and humanism to its characters. A great one.