Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The English Patient

I have to admit, I had beef with this movie coming into it. After all, it beat out Fargo (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1996) for Best Picture in 1996. So I was curious to see what the critics thought could top it.

The English Patient (Anthony Minghella, 1996) is a romantic epic about a wounded cartographer, played by Ralph Fiennes, in WWII. After a plane crash, he is taken care of by an American nurse, played by Juliette Binoche. It's story spans the length of the war, and it takes the viewer for a wonderful ride along the way.

As The English Patient opens up, we see a plane taken down by rifles in the desert. The imagery and cinematography already stand out and prove effective. Throughout the entire film this was the case. Scenic shots on the beach, in the French monastery, and throughout WWII era Cairo were incredible in their representation of the time period, as well as capturing the romance of the film.

The film alternates between the present, when the cartographer, Count Almásy, is being taken care of, and the telling of Almásy's experiences leading up to his accident. Both timelines are intricate and engrossing in their own way. The present timeline depicts Almásy in an almost mysticism, as his nurse deals with losses of her own, as well as isolation during the last days of the war. And, having the privilege of looking back on this movie, I feel I must point out the Fiennes makeup looks eerily similar to that of his makeup as Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies. Almásy's past, on the other hand, is a classic tale of adultery, captured by beautiful landscapes in the desert and passionate scenes between Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas.

The best part about this film may be it's ensemble cast throughout both plot lines. Willem Dafoe acts as a great antagonist who has a role in both of the stories. He delivers his usual dose of eccentricity, with an intensity that perfectly emulates the past of his character. Naveen Andrews plays a minesweeper in the present who comes in frequent contact with Binoche, eventually evolving into a physical relationship. His sincerity is matched only by that of Colin Firth, who plays the husband of Kristin Scott Thomas, and is the victim of the affair.

The film is, as I've said, incredibly romantic; it draws the viewer in with it's first few sequences. Minghella cuts the film down to the perfect length, so that the stories develop fast enough to keep the excitement flowing, but the moments that truly make the film are left, and the viewer is satisfied. While I wouldn't place it above Fargo on my list, it is without a doubt easy to see why the Academy chose this film to win its prestigious award. Luckily I'm not bitter.


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