A movie based on the booker prize (1992) winning novel of the same title by Canadian author Michael Ondaatje, “The English Patient’ is director Anthony Minghella’s tribute to love, loss and all that comes in between. Set in the closing years of the Second World War, the story unfolds in a series of flashbacks of a brutally burnt man who is under the care of a young nurse, who has chosen to stay back at an Old Italian monastery to take care of her immobile patient.
At the onset, the patient is identified as the ‘English patient’, but as the movie progresses the details of his life are revealed to the viewers. He is in fact a Hungarian geographer, Count Laszlo de Almásy, who is posted in Egypt with a team of other explorers. Here he meets and falls in love with Katherine the wife of a fellow explorer. The war wrecks havoc in their lives. Her husband finds out about their affair and they live out an unwilling separation. Their Reunion is no less intense, yet fated to end in tragedy. While tragedy marks the film, beginning with the plane crash to the climax, it is a human story all the way. There is no attempt to make any political statements except that of the one-ness of the earth that maps, wars and the hatred, destroys. A tale of love that truely understands no boundaries.
The love shared by Katherine and the Count, though illicit has its poignant moments, captured beautifully against the background of the sands of Cairo. Cinematographer John Seale’s photography of the desert is sheer poetry on screen. However from ‘God save the king’ to ‘Cheek to Cheek’, it is the music which truly sets the mood through out the 160 minutes run time of the film. Though slow paced at times, its subtleties can only be appreciated at this relaxed pace. There are depths to this movie which are waiting to be explored. It would hardly qualify as a light watch. It is indeed a deeply moving poignant tale of human love, loss and suffering.
Fiennes has a done a remarkable job as the reclusive Count, while Kristin Scott Thomas complements him perfectly as Katherine, his lover. Juliette Binoche’s delivers an Oscar winning performance as Hana the nurse. She brings to life the vulnerability, the emotional distress, loneliness and various layers of her character. Her brief romance with Kip, an Indian bomb-diffuser in the British Army brings a new purpose to her life. It is however to Caravaggio, the Canadian thief who joins them at the villa that she confesses the true nature of her relationship with the patient.” I am not in love with him. I am in love with ghosts. So is he.”
The movie boasts of many such memorable dialogues. It is interesting to observe how a patient so far gone from life gathers around himself a host of characters each bringing their perspective to his condition and none of whom are left untouched by him or his life story. The viewers would also find it difficult to remain untouched by this epic drama of life. However what can be taken to be a credible judgment on the film is the fact that the author of novel from which this film is adapted felt that the essence of his book was not lost in its cinematic version, this is a rather outstanding achievement for a film.