Paul Bowles' novel presents the problem of interiorisation, and a presiding morbidity that would clear most movie-houses. Bertolucci has wisely elected to open things out and to humanise his characters, relenting a little in favour of romance. The American travellers in North Africa, Kit and Port Moresby, still go down the drain, but in this version you care. Remote husband Port (Malkovich) unwisely samples Arab prostitutes, neurotic Kit (Winger) has a fling with their travelling companion Tunner (Scott); but where the story really hooks in is their realisation, after an abortive attempt at sex, that reconciliation is impossible. Port contracts typhoid, and the couple's frantic search for help in increasingly primitive terrain makes for horrifyingly powerful cinema. After Port's death, Kit loses both identity and compass bearings, wanders into the desert, and enters into a sexual delirium with the Tuareg Belqassim (Vu-An). As you'd expect, it's a big, handsome film, rich and strange in psychological depths and eroticism. Malkovich and Winger play woundingly well.
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