#53 The English Patient

The English Patient (1996)

Dir: Anthony Minghella

Well that was beautiful, but very sad.

Set around the time of World War II a pilot (Ralph Fiennes) is shot down and badly burned, he’s disfigured terribly and ends up in the care of a military medical unit, but not knowing his name he’s simply referred to as ‘the English patient’. A young nurse called Hana (Juliette Binoche) decides that the travelling of the unit is causing her patient too much distress, so the two of them are left in a deserted monastery essentially to wait for him to die. Through a series of flashbacks his story is told, that of a tragic romance (with a woman played by Kristen Scott Thomas) and the events that led to his being in such a state.

This film garnered 9 Academy Award wins including best picture, best director and best cinematography. These three elements really are bright together beautifully. The locations are fantastic and very well shot, filmed on location in Italy and Tunisia, they fell so real and have such a wonderful sense of depth that would be hard to achieve from sets. Minghella (who sadly passed away in 2008) does exactly what should be done in film, by making sure the story is shown rather than just told, with very little in the way of the patient (who was formerly Count Laszlo de Almásy) just recounting it to someone, as could have easily been done, but as much as possible is put up on screen to speak for itself.

The performances are excellent, though Ralph Fiennes and Kristen Scott Thomas were both nominated for best lead actor and actress respectively, they failed to win the Oscars. I was quite surprised by that, especially for Fiennes who puts in a fantastically complex performance. His character is so many different things at points in the narrative, the horribly disfigured patient, the geographer of few words, and the erudite and impassioned lover. Simply for being able to pull off all of these different elements in one role yet hold them all together in a way that was cohesive as the same character is a real skill.

It’s no bucket of laughs, partly because of the war setting that entails some characters inevitably dying, and partly because of the heartbreaking tale of love. Though when it’s so elegantly told, and so cinematically presented, it becomes a film worth becoming melancholy over.



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