This rare and beautiful film, based on a book that is felt as much as read, transcends the medium to become art. Painted on a vast desert canvas with deep rich oils, its beauty is felt as much as seen. This film will find your heart and remain there forever. If love had a face, it would look like this.
Director Anthony Minghella's screenplay shifts the center of Michael Ondaatje's story slightly in order to capture on film the essence of his beautiful prose. Ondaatje's novel is one of poetic beauty, a potrait of a rose beneath the water's surface. The film brings that beautiful rose out of the water and into the sunlight. The book and the film are so deeply intertwined you can not watch this film without wanting to read the book, nor can you read the book without wanting to see the film. The story itself centers around three people either in love with, or haunted by ghosts they have loved and lost to war.
Juliette Binoche gives an Oscar winning performance as Hana, a kind nurse with a gentle spirit but a damaged heart. She latches onto the burned and charred body of a man known only as the English patient, and ends up caring for him in a shell ravaged Italian villa in Tuscany where she feeds him plums and reads to him. When a man named Caravaggio with scars of his own arrives, the mystery of who the English patient really is begins to unfold via flashbacks. In the present, Hana begins to let her heart heal when she falls in love with a Sikh who disarms bombs left by the Germans.
It is the memories of the English patient, however, which are at the heart of this film. Ralph Fiennes gives a subtle performance as the introspective Almasy, part of an international expedition mapping an unending desert with both the romance, and the danger of the sea. Kristin Scott Thomas is wonderful as Katherine Clifton, the stunningly beautiful and enigmatic wife of a fellow mapper. An instant but unspoken attraction between she and Almasy finally becomes too unbearable to ignore and the affair that holds the key to the mystery surrounding the English patient begins.
This is one of the most romantic films ever made and is filled with the joy and anguish of love and war. It shows that while war may create logistical lines that can not be crossed, the heart has no boundaries. Anyone who has ever experienced a love of such emotional intensity and physical longing that love and need became one will understand the love affair of Katherine and Almasy.
Cinematographer John Seale has given this film a grace and beauty seldom seen on film. A haunting score full of mystery and romance from Gabriel Yard accompany scenes never to be forgotten, and will not be described here in case you have not yet seen them. Director Anthony Minghella explores the mystery of the desert, and the heart, which according to the "The Histories" by Herodotus, a book the English patient clings to, is an organ of fire.
If there is but one ounce of romance in your soul, you will love "The English Patient." It is a well charted and romantic map of the human heart, as wide and treacherous as the unending desert. This will be one of your favorite films once you see it. I promise.
on May 15, 2004
After the publication of Michael Ondaatje's Booker-Prize-winning "English Patient," conventional wisdom soon held that the novel, while a masterpiece of fiction, was entirely untransferable to any other medium: too intricately layered seemed its narrative structure; too significant its protagonists' inner life; too rich its symbolism. Then along came Anthony Minghella, who reportedly read it in a single sitting and was so disoriented afterwards that he didn't even remember where he was - but who called producer Paul Zaentz the very next morning and talked him into bringing the novel to the screen. Two major studios and several fights over the casting of key roles later, the result were an astonishing nine Oscars (Best Picture, Director - Anthony Minghella -, Supporting Actress - Juliette Binoche -, Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design, Original Score and Sound), as well as scores of other awards.
"The English Patient" is an epic tale of love and loss; of ownership, belonging and the bars erected thereto. It unites the stories of five people: Hungarian count Laszlo de Almasy (Ralph Fiennes), mistaken as English by a British Army medical unit in Italy after professing to have forgotten his identity; Hana (Juliette Binoche), Almasy's Canadian nurse; Katherine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas), his erstwhile lover; Kip (Naveen Andrews), a Sikh sapper and Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe), an ex-spy and thief. All outsiders, they are struggling to come to terms with their lives: Almasy, on his deathbed, reflects back to his life as a North African explorer and his affair with Katherine; Hana believes herself cursed because everybody she cares for dies (in the movie her fiance and her best friend; in the novel her fiance, her father and her unborn baby), Katherine is taken to an all-male company of explorers in Cairo by her husband Geoffrey (Colin Firth), Kip, like Hana, is far away from home (the only Indian in an otherwise British and Italian environment) and Caravaggio lost his livelihood after his thumbs were cut off in captivity by the Germans, on a sadistic officer (Juergen Prochnow)'s orders.
Like the novel, the movie's story largely unfolds in flashbacks: After Hana convinces her superiors to let her stay and nurse Almasy in an abandoned Tuscan villa, she and new arrival Caravaggio, who holds Almasy responsible for his fate, extract the details of his life in Africa and the truth about Katherine, Geoffrey and the events uniting him with the Cliftons and Caravaggio from Almasy in a series of conversations. But at the same time, the story is anchored in the present by Hana's growing attachment to Kip, which shines a different light on the themes also driving Almasy and his relationship with Katherine. The film's outstanding cast, which in key roles also includes Julian Wadham as Almasy's friend Madox and Kevin Whately as Kip's sergeant Hardy carries the story marvelously: Probably their biggest award loss(besides Fiennes's and Scott Thomas's Oscar and other "best lead" nominations and Minghella's screenplay Oscar nomination) was the 1997 SAG ensemble award, which instead went to "The Birdcage."
In his screenplay Minghella made several changes vis-a-vis the novel; the biggest of these doubtlessly a shift in focus from Hana, Caravaggio and Kip to Almasy and Katherine, and the fact that the film is much more explicit about Almasy's identity than the novel. Both were wise choices: Hana's inner demons in the novel are largely exactly that - *inner* demons, moreover, substantially grounded in the past and thus even more difficult to portray than Almasy's and Katherine's. Similarly, once the focus had moved to the latter couple, Kip's back story would have extended the movie without significantly advancing it; and the same is true for the intersections between Caravaggio's path and that of Hana's father. Secondly, mistaken *national* identity is overall more central to Almasy's character than identity as such; so the novel's intricate mystery about his persona might well have proven unnecessarily distracting in the movie's context. Indeed, once Almasy had become the story's greatest focus, much of its symbolism virtually even required that there be no real doubt about his identity.
But in all core respects, Minghella remained faithful to Ondaatje's novel; particularly regarding its profoundly impressionistic imagery, as shown, for example, in the curves formed by the Northern African desert's endless sand dunes, which in John Seale's magnificent and justly awardwinning cinematography resemble those of a woman's body as much as they do in Ondaatje's language, thus uniting Almasy's two greatest loves in a single symbol.
Doubtlessly the most important image is that of maps: Guides to unknown places like those drawn by Almasy and his friends during their explorations, but also tools of ownership like the cartography of Northern Africa made possible by Geoffrey Clifton's photos, and ultimately symbols of betrayal, as Almasy surrenders his maps to the Germans in exchange for a plane after he feels deserted by the British. And while Kip, who spends all day searching for bombs but wants to be found at night, guides Hana to himself by a series of tiny signposts in the form of oil lamps - but still never tries to expect her, in order not to get too much attached to her - Almasy, the perpetual loner who declares that he hates ownership more than anything else, gets so attached to Katherine that he claims her suprasternal notch as his exclusive property and later refers to her as his wife, which due to her marriage to Geoffrey she couldn't truly be in life and could only symbolically become in death. - The final word on maps, belonging and ownership, however, is part of Katherine's legacy to Almasy (and I still prefer the novel's language here):
"I believe in such cartography - to be marked by nature, not just label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. ... All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps."
The English Patient
Secret Life of Laszlo Almasy
Wind, Sand and Stars
Anil's Ghost: A Novel
The End of the Affair
Up at the Villa
Chocolat (Miramax Collector's Series)
The Histories (Penguin Classics)
on February 2, 2005
I love this movie. In fact, it was the first movie I ever purchased (VHS) many moons ago. I first saw it in a theater with a hard-bitten financial-analyst friend of mine (male, straight). I'm an engineer (male, straight). We are not weepy types. We were both moved very much by this movie. I don't agree at all that this is a chick-flick.
This is a movie aimed at adults. If you want: constant action, simplistic plot, black-and-white relationships, car crashes, shoot outs (OK, it does have some crashes and shooting), then you probably want to look elsewhere. Casablanca, to which this movie has been contrasted, (though a good movie) could fall into the category of propaganda: produced during WWII, everyone conformed to the main line. Real people had real lives going on during WWII.
I find that the negative reviews of this movie fall into two categories: 1) those who are (terribly) morally offended by extra-marital affairs, and 2) those that can't follow a complex plot and set of characters. If you can see beyond those issues, and you like a good, complex tragedy, you should enjoy this movie.
This is a wonderful movie. The cinematography is gorgeous, music is fantastic, story is complex and compelling, the characters diverse and engaging. Everyone I know liked this movie a lot. Two love stories, plenty of tragedy and twists. Great actors and acting. The story is revealed slowly through flashbacks, it's a great dramatic device and works very well. I am a voracious reader and I have read the book as well: I prefer the movie (I can only say this about one other novel/movie: Dr. Zhivago). Like I said, everyone I know liked it very much. Enjoy.
on September 7, 2009
The movie is definitely one of the best movies ever made, I'd give 5 stars to it but what I'm rating here is the actual BluRay Disc.
I expected all BluRay Discs to come in the best available format to date which is 1080p/24fps, but this one comes in a lower quality format which is 1080i. Hence, I wonder, what's the purpose of buying this in BluRay Disc format? It really looks grainy, and it's unfair to a movie which won best cinematography.
The DTS sound is definitely very good.
The thing that annoys me most; is that it comes without any subtitles or any extra features at all, feels like playing a VHS.
Movies like "Coming to America" from 1988 (That's 8 years before The English Patient)has been restored in a much better glory than this one, which means it is possible to sell a better product they just didn't care to.
on January 2, 2005
I'm one of the people who was completely taken with THE ENGLISH PATIENT when I saw it in theatres, but was also amused when Elaine Benis on "Seinfeld" goofed on it later. Or, should I say, goofed on everyone who loved it.
The non-linear story structure, the superb acting, the gorgeous photography, the unfolding mystery of what happened to the doomed couple--all of it hit me just right. While other people complained at the film's slow pace, I was soaking up the period details and authentic locations. I played the soundtrack CD for months afterward (and still do sometimes), finding myself lost in the distant and sometimes-haunting music.
There were so many terrible movies in the 1990s, just mere product crafted by committee and focus groups, that the intimate--though tragic--feel of this story felt very personal and real.
You know the couple played by Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas are in BIG trouble from the moment they meet. Just watch their eyes and expressions. Allowing a passion to spread like that has major implications on everyone around them and, in this case, also has major implicactions on a world on the brink of war.
(One footnote: the church I attend put out a list of Top Ten Reasons to Boycott Disney shortly after the film came out. Perhaps scraping for a reason to fill out the list, number 10 was "Boycott Disney because it funds Miramax, which produced THE ENGLISH PATIENT, a film that glorifies adultery." Huh? How anyone can watch this film and believe that these characters, tormented by guilt and confusion, indulging in a passion that not only kills them all but also contributes to Nazi victories in Africa, completely escapes me.)
on June 19, 2002
I'm not really sure why this movie's being panned as severely as it is. Maybe the dense plot put off those looking for an action epic. Maybe the passionate but ultimately destructive relationship put off those looking for a formulaic happy-ending fluff romance. Maybe these people just don't like thinking during movies, because this movie doesn't lay everything out for you and you have to work to figure out character motivations, plot, symbolism, etc. But to me, all those things that this movie isn't only adds to its richness and beauty.
The story is told half in flashbacks, half in present tense, with the beginning a sort of bridge between the two: Story A, Juliette Binoche's nurse caring for the mysterious English Patient, begins at the end of Story B, where Ralph Fiennes (on an expedition in the desert) falls madly in love with a married woman (Thomas). Later, Story C also interweaves with A and B, telling of Willem Dafoe's bitter thief and his connection with the English Patient. This storytelling device is probably what makes the movie brilliant (although the acting, romance and cinematography are hardly to be treated lightly).
Despite technical brilliance, it is The English Patient's examination of emotions that gives it its heart; the sheer passion of the movie makes me cry every time I see it. And the characters are fascinating, much like Anthony Minghella's later work, The Talented Mr Ripley. No one here can be called a caricature, with the possible exception of Katherine; while you may not understand everything they do, part of the fun is piecing together their actions into complex individuals.
You should be warned that you do see a bit more of both Thomas and Binoche than you perhaps would like to, and Almasy and Katherine DO engage in adultery, but if you can overcome any objections to either of those issues and keep your mind open, you may be as moved as I was. The English Patient is a heart-breaking, passionate, powerful, dense, confusing, mesmerizing, extraordinary, and simply beautiful movie.
This film is a melodrama about selfish people and selfless people, whose lives intertwine during the end of World War II. Karma comes into play.
Many viewers were put off by the central plot of the film, which involves marital infidelity, while others took issue with some apparent historical inaccuracies, so if you are sensitive to these things, then maybe the movie isn't for you. Me, I just want to be entertained. If you are a fan of Ralph Fiennes and/or Juliette Binoche, then you should give this picture a try.
Of course, given the age of the film, you are probably already a fan or foe of this movie.
If you are a fan and considering upgrading to the Blu-ray version, you should be aware that there are a couple transfers currently out there - the one you will most likely come across is the pressing from a company in Canada called Alliance. It's a 1080i transfer and it pretty much stinks.
There is a terrible amount of grain in most of the shadow/night scenes, and there is even a few seconds where a vertical scratch in the original source film is visible. There is a German version at 1080p that is supposed to be better, but I haven't seen it. Anyway, you should hang on to your original DVD version of the film until Miramax gets it right...
Miramax/Lionsgate finally released this film in 1080p, and it is a big improvement over the first copy I bought. This new transfer pretty much eliminates the annoying amount of grain that plagued the earlier Blu Ray release. If you buy this disc new, I suggest you look at the case before removing the shrinkwrap - if it says "Miramax" in the lower right on the face of the case (Miramax/Lionsgate on the spine), you are good to go. If it says "Alliance" in the lower right on the face of the case, don't open it and get a refund/exchange, because it's that crappy transfer.
on July 29, 2002
In a style reminiscent of the best of David Lean, this romantic love story sweeps across the screen with epic proportions equal to the vast desert regions against which it is set. It's a film which purports that one does not choose love, but rather that it's love that does the choosing, regardless of who, where or when; and furthermore, that it's a matter of the heart often contingent upon prevailing conditions and circumstances. And thus is the situation in "The English Patient," directed by Anthony Minghella, the story of two people who discover passion and true love in the most inopportune of places and times, proving that when it is predestined, love will find a way.
It's WWII; flying above the African desert, Hungarian Count Laszlo de Almasy (Ralph Fiennes) is shot down, his biplane mistaken for an enemy aircraft. And though he survives the crash, he is severely burned. To his great good fortune, however, he is rescued by a tribe of nomads and winds up in a hospital. But existing conditions are governed by circumstances of war, and Almasy soon becomes one of many patients being transported via convoy to a different facility. Upon reaching Italy, he is too weak and ill to continue on, and a Canadian nurse, Hana (Juliette Binoche), volunteers to stay behind with him at an abandoned monastery.
Hana soon discovers that her charge is something of a man of mystery, as Almasy remembers nothing of his past, and not even his own name. Thought to be English, the only clues pointing to who he is are contained in a book found in his possession after the crash, but even they are as cryptic as Hana's patient. Slowly, however, under prompting from Hana, Almasy begins to remember bits and pieces of his life, and his story begins to unfold. And his memory is helped along even more by the appearance of a mysterious stranger named Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe), who suspects that Almasy is the man he's been looking for-- a man with whom he wants to settle a score. But, burned beyond recognition, Almasy may or may not be that man. Meanwhile, Almasy's memories continue to surface; memories of a woman he loved, Katherine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas)-- as well as memories of Katherine's husband, Geoffrey (Colin Firth). And, crippled in mind and body as he is, those memories become the only thing left to which he can cling with any hope at all, even as his life seems to be slipping farther away with each passing moment.
In addition to directing, Anthony Minghella also wrote the screenplay for this film, which he adapted from the novel by Michael Ondaatje. The result is an epic saga presented in the tradition of Lean's "Doctor Zhivago" and "Lawrence of Arabia"; a magnificent film that fills the screen and the senses with unprecedented grandeur and beauty. Simply put, Minghella's film is genius realized; crafted and delivered with a poetic perfection, watching it is like watching a Monet come to life. From the opening frames, Minghella casts a hypnotic spell over his audience that is binding and transporting, with a story that has an emotional beauty that equals the engagingly stunning and vibrant images brought to life by John Seale's remarkable cinematography; images that virtually fill the screen as well as the soul of the viewer. In every sense, this is a film of rare eloquence, with a striking emotional capacity that facilitates an experience that is truly transcendental. Nominated in twelve categories, it deservedly received a total of nine Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actress (Binoche) and Cinematography.
If one had to choose a single word to describe the "essence" of this film, it would be "excellence." Even an extraordinary film, however, does not receive nine Oscars without performances that are extraordinary in kind; and the performances given by Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas here transcend the term "Oscar worthy." Nominated for Best Actor for his portrayal of Almasy (Geoffrey Rush was awarded the gold for "Shine"), Fiennes has never been better, achieving an emotional depth with his character that is nearly palpable. Private and introspective, Almasy is not by his very nature an individual to whom the audience will be able to form an intimate connection; Fiennes, however, finds a way to open that emotional door just enough to let you in, enough so that you taste the honest passion welling up within him. And it works. Almasy does not seek your friendship; he will, however, gain your compassion.
Kristen Scott Thomas, too, received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress (Frances McDormand received the award for "Fargo") for her portrayal of Katherine, a woman whose stoic countenance masks the emotional conflict raging within her, born of the forbidden passion that enslaves her and yet to which she gives herself willingly, casting off her shackles of repression to embrace a love so strong it threatens to consume her. The reserve Katherine must maintain evokes the empathy of the audience, as Scott Thomas successfully mines the emotional depths of her character to the greatest possible effect. It's the kind of performance that draws you in and holds you fast, taking you as it does beyond that curtain of hypocrisy that dictates what must be if only for the sake of appearances, and allows you to experience a true sense of unbridled passion. Understated and shaded with subtlety, it's terrific work by Kristin Scott Thomas.
Binoche gives a stunning, affecting performance, as well, as the kindhearted nurse, Hana; it is her humanity, in fact, which defines love in it's purest sense and offers a balanced perspective of it within the context of the film. Her relationship with Kip (Naveen Andrews) affords us a glimpse of passion of another kind, which contrasts effectively with the intensity of that between Almasy and Katherine. "The English Patient" is a film that will move you and fill you emotionally; one you will not want to see end.
on December 21, 1999
From the opening credits, which combine images of dreamy sand dunes and the gliding plane with the seductive paint-brush strokes of images in the cave, you are transported to places exotic, both in locale and in the heart. The story could hardly be more compelling, and the performances are for the most part perfect, especially Juliette Binoche, who has a casual beauty and resilience that draws you in. Her every move fills you up with wonder. Kristin Scott Thomas is superb at playing tension beneath the surface: this character is full of passion and strength, all of which will be grievously tested. Ralph Fiennes does an expert job as the patient, yet I do wish there were a glimmer of warmth from him -- he is interesting, not heartbreaking, but this is easy to forgive when there are so many other rapturous elements around him. Minghella's direction is artfully accessible, and weaves a spell in and around the entire ensemble. There are moments of incredible beauty and sorrow. And the finale, which finds each and every loose thread compellingly tied up, is one of those rare great finales -- you replay it in your head forever after.
on September 15, 2003
The English Patient took its rightful place as my favorite movie when I first saw it in 1997 (I wish I had caught it in theaters). It is only after reading some of the other reviews of this film posted online that I chose to write a review. People deserve to know the facts, and many of these reviews seem completely misinformed.
Any reviewer who talks about "some boring English guy" obviously never made it through to the end of the movie. Almasy is NOT English, and that is woven throughout the film as a mystery of his true identity and the heart-breaking irony (revealed at the end) that he was called "The English Patient".
The complaints about the length of this film are ridiculous - it's long, yes, but not as long as other renowned classics like Gone with the Wind or Lawrence of Arabia. And the pace of The English Patient will only seem slow to someone who desires nothing more than quick entertainment with no thought required. This film is a Best Picture Oscar winner!!! It's not supposed to give you a quick jolt of Hollywood glitz!
Reviewers that tell you to watch this only once and then to not waste the time again are in the same group as those who tell you that the plot was confusing and hard to follow. Every time I watch this movie I get something new out of it. Some new bit of information clicks, some scene makes sense in a new context.
If you want to catch all the wonderful intricacies of the plot, watch it over and over again.
And finally, for the many reviewers who seemed to consider the characters non-human and unapproachable and the story nothing more than recycled sentimental garbage, they missed a lot of the magic of this film. This ending never fails to make me cry, and the emotional range of the actors is incredible. And yes, it's a romance, so perhaps the man is too good to be true, and perhaps the woman is too lustful to be believable, but that's what films are all about. And as far as that particular media goes, I find The English Patient to be near perfection.