Writer Paul Bowles' interests in travel, time, and the desert are hauntingly joined in his 1949 novel The Sheltering Sky and its 1990 film version. It is the shattering story of two American artists, Kit and Port Moresby (she writes, he composes), who come to impoverished postwar North Africa to experience the transforming presence of the deep Sahara and its solid, sheltering sky.
Although its pace often lumbers like a dusty camel, director Bernardo Bertolucci's re-creation of the Moresbys' spiritual journey, which has the real-life Bowles playing the narrator, is richly compelling and predictably gorgeous even on TV screens. As played by Debra Winger (in her most robust role since Terms of Endearment) and John Malkovich (reprising his Dangerous Liaisons master manipulator), the video-size versions of Kit and Port seem destined to connect with future generations of couch-bound adventurers.
Bowles himself moved to North Africa in the late '40s, a young American composer, critic, and writer looking for a different kind of culture in which to live. Paul Bowles in Morocco (shown in part on CBS in 1970) is an hour-long profile that will reward both longtime fans and the newly curious. The documentary offers images of the forbidding land and insights into the man who has become the quintessential expatriate writer. Both films: B+