28 March 2004 | bob the moo
Looks good but the plot struggles to hold before eventually just being hard work
Port and Kit Moresby are travellers who come to North Africa to spend a year or so. With them travels a friend, George Tunner. Their journey hides the gradual breakdown of their relationship - a fact that is only highlighted when Port visits an Arab prostitute and Kit sleeps with Tunner after a drunken train journey together.
Before you sit down to see this film, you really need to have asked yourself what sort of mood you are in. Are you looking for a fast film, something entertaining and slick to distract you from life, or provide background noise in the room while you iron? If you are looking for such a movie then there must be thousands of action movies and comedies that you can watch. If you are in a contemplative mood or are able to accept the story that comes at you no matter how slow or difficult to get into then you may as well give this a stab. The film focuses on the relationship between Kit and Port, a relationship that has been crumbling for many years before we are brought into the story. The film then uses the journey as a journey of them both and, ultimately, Kit to find more about themselves, each other and their lives.
If this sounds straightforward then forgive me, for it is not. The film doesn't help; it is difficult to get into the story because at times it doesn't seem to really be about anything. It is not so bad for the majority of the film, but Kit's wander in the last 30 minutes is difficult because it seems to be going nowhere and not be connected to the emotions that we only assume she might be feeling. This is the main problem with the film - not so much the slow pace but the fact that it could be running but it wouldn't matter because it would still feel like it isn't actually going anywhere. It is possible to take something from this film but the actual intension was lost on me - when the final lines of dialogue came I hoped they would be as a torch in a dark room - but they only served to lose me that much more. I hate arty films when they seem to revel in their sheer impenetrateability, sadly that seemed to be the case here.
Malkovich and Winger are both very good; they acted wounded and hurt very well within their veneer of respectability and normalcy. It's a shame that, although their performances help us get into Kit & Port's relationship, they are unable to help us understand (or care) when the film begins to become `deeper' than that. Scott is quite interesting but underused, although Spall and Bennett are reasonably good. The star here is the desert, and it looks great. For all his faults as a storyteller here, Bertolucci can frame a shot, producing a great sense of place as well as some really gorgeous travelogue moments. If that's your thing (a `deep' and beautiful film) then you'll be OK, but I needed some emotional buy in or at least something approaching a narrative that could be easily followed with a bit of thought.
Overall this is an interesting but ultimately frustrating film. It looks great and it all seems very worthy, but where it goes was beyond me. I enjoyed watching it as it forced me to think instead of just vegging out (like so many other films do) but at the end of the day I was left wondering if this was artistic posturing on a big scale or if it really did have an emotional core that I just couldn't reach.