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The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

After reading the novel, The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles, it was difficult to imagine how one could transform the novel into a satisfying film. How could one imitate such descriptive settings and emotions without the advantage of Paul Bowles’ wording? Also the novel does not have the plot of a typical movie, even an action or love story, and the ending is not conclusive. Could actors today play the deep and complex characters as they are portrayed in the book? These were some of the complications I considered when deciding how I would produce the movie.

To start to picture the film, I began to think of the actors I would choose to portray the main characters of the movie. I pictured Kit as a rather frail, pretty, blonde character perhaps played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Port should be played by an actor who can generate a sense of strength and independence as shown by the character in the book. He should be a masculine individual, but definitely have a quiet, introspective side. I would like to see Harrison Ford or a similar actor play this part.

Tunner should be portrayed with the right mix of good looks and charm combined with a devious underlying air which causes one to question his motives. Perhaps an actor such as Hank Azaria would be a good Tunner. I would try to shoot as many scenes as possible on location in the Sahara. By doing this, the viewer can gain a sense of the openness and vastness of the desert without the help of Bowles’ descriptive wording. I would try hard to show the harshness of the heat and the burden of the dust which might cause one to react differently than in normal circumstances.

I would enhance these sensations by using soft African music with flutes and horns. I think central to the plot should be the change that occurred in Port and Kit’s relationship after the bike ride to the top of the dune. Before this, their relationship was shaky and they were not as dependent on each other. Afterward, though, their relationship deepened and this sets the stage for Port’s traumatic death. Port’s death would definitely be a turning point in my film and a very emotional moment. I would try to display the raw pain and emotion of death as Bowles’ does so eloquently in the book.

I would also concentrate on the relationship between Kit and Belqassim and her dependence on him caused by Port’s death. Kit’s runaway adventure to desert will be tied in emotionally to Port’s death and her sudden change when she leaves Belqassim. Belqassim will be portrayed as a harsh, wild man who has a sensitive side when it comes to Kit. These scenes will be shot as to portray a sense of mysterious doom, yet soften perhaps the lights and music to show a sense of comfort when Belqassim and Kit are together.

I believe that with the combination of the fore-mentioned aspects and actors, the novel, The Sheltering Sky, can be turned into a satisfying film. Though it does not have the plot of a typical film or a conclusive ending, the book’s raw emotion and plot twists can definitely keep a film viewer’s interest. Part Two: Bertolucci’s Vision Many book and film critics have claimed that there is no way to transform the novel, The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles, into a satisfying movie. They were proven wrong when in 1990, Bernardo Bertolucci turned the 1949 novel into a film.

After first reading the novel and developing a clear picture of it inside, watching Bertolucci’s film forced me to look at the story and characters in a different light. His choice of actors reflects his view on how he pictures the plot lines portrayed. Bertolucci chose Debra Winger, a phenomenal actress who played the character well, for the part of Kit. By choosing her, he developed the part of Kit into a strong, emotional, disheveled lady, not like the blonde, frail woman portrayed in the book. John Malkovich as Port developed the character into a confident, sophisticated man who had a definite emotional side.

Bertolucci’s choice for Tunner, Campbell Scott, portrayed the character as he was shown in the book, with a mix of good looks and devious charm. Bertolucci’s decision to use Paul Bowles as the narrator was an excellent choice which added much to the film and spared the viewer lengthy explanations. His shots of the Sahara portrayed the openness and vastness of the desert, but failed to show the harshness of the heat and dust which is central to the plot. The lighting and music made one feel the sense of mystery and uncertainty in this strange place.

Bertolucci depicts Port and Kit’s relationship as a strong one from the start, although each of them has had their unfaithful moments. He shows the bike ride scene from the novel as part of the film, but not the as turning point it was in the book. Port’s death scenes are very raw and emotional as shown by the dark lights and angles. One can truly feel the pain Kit is going through and sense her anguish. Bertolucci also causes the viewer to really share Kit’s feelings of isolation and utter aloneness in the desert after Port’s death.

This sets the stage for her meeting Belqassim and the relationship they shared together. Bertolucci does not portray Belqassim and Kit’s relationship exactly how it was in the book and it is sometimes hard to tell Kit’s feelings for him. Bertolucci also leaves out an entire aspect of the story when he omits the attack on Kit by Belqassim’s wives. Another important plot line that Bertolucci gave insignificant time to was the Lyles’ story. These characters are greatly defined in the novel and lend an important plot twist.

In the film, the story is not expanded enough and causes one to question why the Lyles are even included in the movie. Those who only watch the film do not gain a full sense of why Bowles included them in the novel. Bertolucci’s film proved to the critics that the “impossible” could happen. He took a novel that supposedly could never be turned into a film and developed it into a very successful and satisfying movie. Though not everything in the movie perfectly correlated with the book, it did an excellent job of portraying the long, dramatic adventure of Port, Kit, and Tunner.

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