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A disappointingly reductive adaptation of Paul Bowles's first novel (1949) by writer-director Bernardo Bertolucci and cowriter Mark Peploe. Debra Winger and John Malkovich star as a restless intellectual couple moving through North Africa and sexually estranged from each other despite their deep emotional ties. Both actors are as good as the script allows them to be, Bertolucci remains a director of some erotic intensity, and Vittorio Storaro's cinematography is as ravishing as one has any right to expect. But the virtual Hollywoodizing of Bowles's not very filmable narrative isn't accompanied by enough personal force to make one care very much about the characters, and Bowles's own brief on- and offscreen participation, as a witness to the action who occasionally recites his own prose, can't really make up the difference. It's a pity that Bowles's own music was passed up in favor of an unmemorable score by Ryuichi Sakamoto. With Campbell Scott, Jill Bennett, Timothy Spall, and Eric Vu-An (1990). 138 min.

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