Director Anthony Minghella has evoked the awful romance of war.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"The English Patient" is never less than riveting, never less than visually glorious. It is so beautifully made that one needs almost to apologize for saying that its beauty holds the spectator at a distance. We watch with fascination, with admiration, and with a certain reserve.

The people in this movie are never removed from death and loss for more than a minute or a mile. They struggle to make human connections amidst the impersonal cruelty of war, knowing well that they can no longer control their own lives.

As compelling as their stories are, it is the landscape that grips the audience, from the first sight of a small biplane flying over the vastness of the North African desert. Unlike the sea that is sometimes diminished by its flatness, the sand undulates in a mesmerizing sweep of mounds. Surrounded by this surreal beauty, people seem more symbolic than real.

Just before World War II, Count Almasy (Ralph Fiennes) and a small band of cartographers are mapping the desert for the British when Geoffrey Clifton (Colin Firth) and his wife, Katherine (Kristin Scott Thomas), land their small plane on the sand. Their arrival leads inevitably to an affair between Almasy and Katherine, and to the complications that flow from their entanglement.

Dressed always in billowing white against the desert, Katherine is not so much a wife and lover as an abstraction of the tough beauty who exudes nobility and courage. Whatever life hands her, this woman will handle it with style. Kristin Scott Thomas is quite perfect as the embodiment of the glamorous, brave heroine of the 30s.

After Almasy's plane burns, leaving him irreparably burned, he is taken to an abandoned Italian monastery by Hana (Juliet Binoche), a nurse so shaken by war that she needs to heal herself by taking care of the anonymous man who is burned beyond healing. "I'm a bit of toast, my friend," is the measure of his stoicism.

In the sudden peace of the monastery, Almasy slowly remembers his past in flashbacks that gather momentum as they reveal the interlocking lives of the people who find each other in the remoteness of war. Playing Almasy with great reserve, Ralph Fiennes becomes a symbol of the quiet hero whose tortured choices between loyalty and lust are clarified by war.

Juliette Binoche's Hana is vulnerable and brave. Whether jumping solitary hopscotch in the courtyard or playing the keyboard of a broken piano, she conveys the poignancy of these wonderfully imagined scenes. And she creates an unforgettable moment as Hana is hoisted skyward with rope and candle by her lover to see the treasured paintings on the ceiling of a darkened church. Her performance is subtle and inspired.

This is 1939; it is Tobruk and Cairo, the British, Germans, Hungarians, and Arabs. Time and place jump alive on the screen. Director Anthony Minghella has evoked the awful romance of war.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 491
Studio : Miramax
Rating : R
Running Time: 2h42m

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