Written and directed by Anthony Minghella. Based on the book by the same
name by Michael Ondaatje. Produced by Saul Zaentz. Cinematography by John
Seale. Costume design by Ann Roth. Edited by Walter Murch.
Starring: Ralph Fiennes (Count von Almasy), Juliette Binoche (Hana), Willem
Dafoe (Caravaggio), Kristin Scott Thomas (Katharine Clifton), Colin Firth
(Geoffrey Clifton), Naveen Andrews (Kip).
Call it "Gone With the Sand." A love story that can't help but
take you by surprise, "The English Patient" is actually two love
stories: one in the decadent cauldron of 1930s Cairo and the other in the
desperation of Italy at the end of WWII. They intersect in the body of
the "english patient," who isn't really English. Or patient.
Kristin Scott Thomas has never been as lush and desirable as in the role
of Katharine, a woman crashing the company of explorers of the Arabian Desert.
And Juliette Binoche's acting has never been better. Avoiding the sultry
femme fatale mannerisms that mark her career, she gives a straightforward
performance as a nurse tending the English patient and rediscovering her
joie-de-vivre in renaissance art.
Ralph Fiennes is utterly convincing as the swashbuckling Hungarian explorer,
a man among men who is felled by another man's wife. He never camps it
up. And his performance as the misshapen English patient is instant Oscar
Most noteworthy about the entire film is our sincere and complete investment
in these very romantic worlds - which have been exploited in other films.
When you see a group of men in tuxedos being waited on by men in fezes,
surrounded by ladies in the kind of lingerie that passes for evening gowns,
you start thinking of Lawrence Durrell's "Alexandria Quartet"
and campy versions of "Lawrence of Arabia." Thank god the movie
has its own strength and behaves as if this were our very first excursion
into the endless sands of northern Africa.
The basic theme of the film involves cartography - the mapping of the shifting
sands - an obviously humongous enterprise that is decimated by the outbreak
of WWII. The idea of the grid that holds down the land finds its counterpoint
in Italy after the War, where the Germans have laced the Gothic villages
with land mines and bombs that threaten to blow up in our faces at every
turning point. Our character Kip, the Indian actor Naveen Andrews, brings
as much intensity to his unlacing, defusing and liberating of Italy as he
brings to freeing Hana the nurse.
The extraordinary story departs so radically from the novel as to borrow
its characters and create a plot, simply incorporating the themes of the
book. It is actually two love stories - the sacred and profane. The nurse's
devotion to the English patient reflects on a pure and worthy kind of love.
Their story is even reinforced by their existence in a ruined palazzo surrounded
by books and a nearby medieval village. Everything in Cairo is profane,
and yet the love story that sprouts up between Katharine and the Count is
irresistible - and it draws us into its tale of desire and destruction.
If you don't walk out of this movie asking your companion, "Would you
walk five days through the desert to rescue me from a cave?" - well,
your heart has been pickled in too many movies. Great love was never so