Sunday, January 17, 2010

#388: The English Patient (1996)

Director: Anthony Minghella
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Kristin Scott Thomas & Willem Dafoe

A man with an indistinguishable accent has been found near a plane crash in 1944. His face is horribly burned, and he has lost his memory. His weakness makes it difficult for him to be moved with the caravan full of hospital workers, so a makeshift hospital is set up in an abandoned monastery in Italy. Hana, a Canadian nurse who has lost all of her relations in the war, stays to take care of him. A mysterious character named Caravaggio arrives at the monastery, and he is certain the patient still has his memory in tact. While Hana begins to allow herself to love an Indian bomb detector who arrives soon after Caravaggio, the patient begins to remember how he came to his current state. While working for the Royal Geographic Society in Cairo, he becomes enamored with a married English woman, Katherine. Their relationship unravels along with the patient’s memories, leading us to the striking final act.

With such a complex premise, this is one heck of a long movie. This seems to have turned off a lot of viewers, but for me, I was riveted throughout. The performances by everyone were outstanding.

Juliette Binoche doesn’t belong in our generation; she is so comfortable in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Fiennes exhibits an ambiguity that has become a trademark for his characters. He shows a great potential for malice, but all due to his love for a woman. Dafoe’s resentment towards the patient is also brilliantly unraveled throughout the course of the film, and it is hard to look at anyone but him while he is on the screen, never knowing when he is going to burst. And then there’s Kristin Scott Thomas, whose performance as a woman torn between two lovers shines.

This movie requires a lot of patience, but I found it to be well worth it.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):

  • The Germans who shoot at Almazy's plane at the beginning were actually tourists roped into the production because they couldn't afford any more extras.
  • Was the first digitally-edited film to win an Academy Award for Best Film Editing (Walter Murch). Murch began editing the film mechanically, but then switched to the Avid system after his son suffered a medical emergency so that he could work from his home while his son recovered. Murch writes about the experience in his book "In the Blink of an Eye (2nd Ed.)."
  • In the scene where Hana is being pulled up to see the paintings in the church, the electric power and smoke for her "torch" was being piped through the seemingly real rope on which she was sitting.

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