The Sheltering Sky

There's nothing quite like going crazy in the desert, is there?

Bernardo Bertolucci's "the Sheltering Sky" opens with grainy B&W images of Manhattan: all the familiar spots, the neon signs, the skyline. Strange, as the movie takes place entirely in Morocco, albeit with American protagonists. But it's not the only strange detail: Paul Bowles (who wrote the novel the book is based on, and which I must read sometime soon) is briefly in the first half of the movie as a narrator, then disappears -likethe main characters do from civilization- for the rest of the movie, only to re-appear to deliver some memorable final words.

This isn't a good movie. I think. The plot meanders and stalls, the characters are sketchy and hard to understand, and I found myself bored and impatient with it for long stretches. While Bertolucci doesn't quite make the mistake of portraying the Moroccans and Tuaregs as noble savages, he does take too much of an anthropological interest, filming anything and everything vainly looking for some revelation. Still, at the end, I was oddly moved. Maybe owing to those final words, no doubt taken directly from the book:

"Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well, yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless. "

It's not as deep as it wants to be, of course, but it made sense to me on some level. It made me want to see the movie again keeping that in mind (though not right now).

Debra Winger has a strange face. It shifts so much it's impossible to get a firm grasp on it, and at the same time it can be almost unbearably still. One scene she's a traditional beauty, the next she's almost unrecognizable, anonymous. She would make sense in the Manhattan world we glimpse, all fashionable clothes and wit, but it also doesn't quite surprise you when she "goes native".

I miss Morocco, sometimes.

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