The English Patient
A bi-plane is seen flying at low altitude over endless sand dunes. As far as the eye can see there is nothing to break the monotony of sand dune after sand dune. Suddenly, between two dunes some men are spotted. They yell something in a foreign tongue and open fire on the plane. It is peppered with holes and then finally the engine is hit and an explosion of fire ensues, which engulfs the passenger compartment and travels back to the pilot's compartment. There is confusion and a parachute and then silence. The pilot is saved by desert people and turned over to some nurses who travel with him to the coast of Italy. We find out that it's the 1940s. He cannot remember his name or his nationality. He can answer, with a quick wit, only a few of the many questions asked of him. He is in terrible shape. He is burned beyond recognition; his chance for survival is slim. This man's memory comes back to him in bits and pieces. The story he tells is full of such beauty and heartbreak and love and sadness, that I am sure I will never forget it. For nearly three hours he will spin a tale so unique and exciting and wonderful that you will stay hushed for fear of missing a single word. This film is such a whole-soul experience that I'm afraid that my words will fall far short as I try to describe it. Who is this man and what is his story?
Ralph Fiennes plays the patient, Count Laszlo de Almasy. We are transported, as he remembers, to 1930s Egypt. He is with a group of map makers who are trying to chart the vast expanse of Northern Africa. He is comfortable with his group, 'The Sand Club'. Into this backdrop will arrive a pilot and his wife, and the Count's life will be changed forever. The pilot is bumbling, but his wife is sharp, beautiful, and unafraid. The connection between Almasy and Mrs. Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas) begins almost immediately. He is aloof with her, wondering what a woman is doing in the brutal landscape of the desert. Her husband is called back to Cairo and the survey party continues its trek.
Another member of the party, an older gentleman, has begun a not-entirely-explained relationship with a young male Egyptian guide. He notices the strange look by Almasy and says, 'Tell me, how do you explain to people who have never been here, feelings that seem perfectly normal?' By this point, Almasy has also let feelings sweep him that in other places probably never would. The flirtation between the young guide and older man eventually lead the party to be stranded in a sandstorm. Almasy and Katharine Clifton are forced, by sheer survival, to ride the storm out in close quarters. When he touches her hair, the look on her face is unforgettable.
This film is a love story, but it's separated from other love stories by mystery and honesty. It's erotic, but that same honesty makes it nothing to hide the eyes from. Every so often a film gets love and sex right. People make love and they're naked, and it's natural. There's no slow camera shot up a leg until, breasts are seen and a saxophone solo swells in the background. The lovers bathe together and no one is shy. This honesty follows to our other setting. The nurse who is caring for the patient, plays a bombed out piano left in the monastery. A Sikh bomb disposal expert, named Kip, urges her to stop, as the Germans enjoy booby trapping pianos. The nurse is entranced by his bravery and dedication to work. They begin their own slow, beautiful affair.
There are several scenes that I will never forget. Once you've seen it you'll know what I'm talking about. Shells of fire. Hopscotch. A dance in the rain. A bagpiper playing 'Silent Night'. And most importantly, the flying trapeze, a scene which was so enchanting that I was afraid to breathe or swallow, as I might miss a single instant of its beauty.
'The heart is an organ of fire'. Go see this one.
Kristin Scott Thomas
Cinematography by John Seale
Written and Directed by Anthony Minghella
This Was Written On December 4, 1996
8.8 A Consensus of 40 Critics
~~Best Picture of 1996 -- Academy Award Winner
~~Best Director of 1996 For Anthony Minghella -- Academy Award Winner, DGA Winner
~~Best Adapted Screenplay of 1996 For Anthony Minghella -- Academy Award Nomination
~~Best Actor of 1996 For Ralph Fiennes -- Academy Award Nomination
~~Best Actress of 1996 For Kristin Scott Thomas -- Academy Award Nomination, National Board of Review
~~Best Supporting Actress of 1996 For Juliette Binoche -- Academy Award Winner, National Board of Review
~~Best Cinematography of 1996 For John Seale -- Academy Award Winner, Los Angeles Film Critics
~~Best Score of 1996 For Gabriel Yared -- Academy Award Winner
~~Best Editing of 1996 -- Academy Award Winner
Paperback [1996 Movie Cover]
Paperback [1998 Movie Cover]
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copyright © 2000 Michael Warner Cummins
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