Movie #92: The English Patient (1996)

Director: Anthony Minghella

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, Kristin Scott Thomas, Naveen Andrews, Colin Firth, Julian Wadham, Jurgen Prochnow

Academy Awards (1997):

Best Picture: Saul Zaentz

Best Director: Anthony Minghella

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Juliette Binoche

Best Art Direction-Set Direction: Stuart Craig, Stephanie McMillan

Best Cinematography: John Seale

Best Costume Design: Ann Rother

Best Film Editing: Walter Murch

Best Music, Original Dramatic Score: Gabriel Yared

Best Sound: Walter Murch, Mark Berger, David Parker, Christopher Newman

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Ralph Fiennes

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Kristin Scott Thomas

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: Anthony Minghella

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“Every night I cut out my heart. But in the morning it was full again.”

On a more personal note: this film has special significance to me.  When I first started this project, it was simply to watch all 501 movies.  I had seen between 80 and 90 previously, but The English Patient was one of the first films I watched as part of this project.  For that reason, I’ve looked forward to reviewing this one more than most of the others.

Plot Summary: “A burn victim, a nurse, a thief, and a sapper find themselves in each others company in an old Italian villa close to the end of World War II. Through flashbacks, we see the life of the burn victim, whose passionate love of a woman and choices he made for her ultimately change the lives of one other person in the villa. Not only is this film a search for the identity of the English patient, but a search for the identities of all the people in the quiet old villa.” via IMDB.com

I had originally planned on making this the final review for Valentine’s, but it just didn’t happen.  It works though since I was going to review Best Picture winners until the Oscars on March 2.

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There are a lot of levels to this movie, and though I think it could have been shortened up, it still works for me.  Moving from the current time, where Count Laszlo de Almasy (Fiennes) is severely burned and under the care of nurse Hanna (Binoche), back to Laszlo’s affair with Katharine Clifton.  Hanna has taken a romantic interest in one of the soldiers.  David Caravaggio (Dafoe), a Canadian soldier who lost his thumbs in Cairo, blames Almasy of betraying the Allies and helping the Germans by giving them maps of the region.   The first time I watched The English Patient, I was a bit confused with everything that was going on.  This time around, I’ve been able to appreciate the complexity of the story though.

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I appreciated how there was a good balance of flashback and present-day screen time.  Once Laszlo and Katharine’s (Thomas) affair started, I felt like that part of the story stagnated until the final half hour or so of the film.  The burn victim makeup on Ralph Fiennes was very well done.  There’s just enough of Laszlo in the look and mannerisms to know who he is, but at the same time being a completely different person.

Juliette Binoche is fantastic in this film.  Though we see her lose people close to her, she still conveys a strong demeanor.  She balances the passion yet reservation Hanna feels for Kip (Andrews), the strength to stand up and be taken seriously, and her devotion to taking care of Laszlo.  One of my favorite scenes was when Kip took her to see the paintings in the church was a really good way for her character to open up.

Others considered for Caravaggio: Sean Connery, Richard Dreyfuss, Bruce Willis, John Goodman and Danny DeVito

Others considered for Caravaggio: Sean Connery, Richard Dreyfuss, Bruce Willis, John Goodman and Danny DeVito.

 It goes without saying that I enjoyed Willem Dafoe’s performance here.  He exhibits just enough rage without being too over the top.  Also, he comes to realize and appreciate Laszlo’s plight and gets the facts straight on why Laszlo gave the Germans the maps.

The love story between Laszlo and Katharine was nice throughout the film, but what made it great was the final half hour or so when Geoffrey Clifton (Firth) crashes his plane and mortally wounds Katharine.  The aftermath and the great passion that both Fiennes and Thomas show when Laszlo goes to leave, Katharine writes out the final journal entry, and Laszlo carrying her out to the plane lift this love story above the rest.

The English Patient benefited from what I think was a pretty weak Academy Award field.  I don’t think it would have won as many Academy Awards in another year.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great film, I just don’t think it had much competition.

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Revisiting The English Patient has been enjoyable for me.  I don’t know if I would watch this film again, perhaps if I could watch the first 20 minutes then skip to the last hour.  The passion and love shown both in the flashback and present day scenes is touching, and Anthony Minghella created a nice gem of a romantic film.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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