Winner of 9 Academy Awards, The English Patient casts a spell that is hard to
break. You shudder helplessly as you are swept away in the torrent of passion
that fills the screen. You don't remain part of the audience, but form a part
of the story as it weaves gently in and out of the characters' lives. The film
is not celluloid, but life, as it not only lives and breathes but smacks of a
sensuality that is stark and far too real.
Set during World War II, the movie revolves around the four principal characters whose lives become inexplicably linked. The story is told through the eyes of a mysterious English patient who arrives in Tuscany, his body charred as a result of his plane being shot over the Sahara. Caring for the patient is the gentle nurse Hanna (Juliet Binoche). The patient's mind is awash with a life's collection of secrets and passions as he begins narrating the story of his love.
Born a Hungarian Count, Lazlo Almasy was a mapmaker working for the British. During the course of his work in Cairo, he comes across and falls deeply in love with Katherine (Kristin Scott Thomas), another man's wife. The couple's love affair, though, seems doomed from the beginning. The discovery of the affair leads Katherine's husband to crash his glider, with Katherine, into the desert. The couple dies and leaves Lazlo dying stranded in the desert before being brought to Italy.
The love story is intercut with the nurse Hanna tending to the patient in the monastery. The film is narrated in bits and pieces, alternating between the white hot Cairo and the cool shades of Italy where they are joined by a Sikh mine sweeper Naveen Andrews and a mysterious stranger Caravaggio (William Dafoe), who's on the hunt for the person who got him arrested at the hands of the Nazis.
The tale, though seemingly simple, has several shades of grey to it, and you need to see the film more than once to answer all your questions. The love story of the Count and Katherine has a haunting sweetness to it, which makes them truly unforgettable. The moments of tenderness coupled with the starkness of the visuals magnify the emotions of the actors, and their finely nuanced performances mesmerize you.
This masterful piece of cinema showcases some of the screen's best. Ralph Fiennes as the Count is absolutely brilliant. Fiery and cold at one point and reeking of tenderness at another, he seems undecipherable, except at the hands of his lover. Kristin Scott Thomas excels in her role as Katherine. Juliet Binoche as Hanna seems to have all her emotions shine through with a simplicity that makes it a joy to watch her on screen. And director Anthony Minghella appears to have known exactly how to brew this rather intoxicating love potion as he plays his characters about.
Perhaps one of the best love stories of our time, The English Patient leaves you emotionally drained. It may well be on its way to becoming a classic, and I sure know why. Hollywood may get bigger and better screenplays, but the love stories keep getting flimsier and shallower. So why not indulge ourselves in the sinful delight of getting all our senses awakened to the sweet smell of love and passion, and watch a movie where the human spirit remains true to its form?
The English Patient is heartbreakingly poetic with a soul that is rare to find
in today's cinema. Don't miss it.