"The English Patient" dominated the 1997 Academy Awards,
nearly sweeping the important technical awards (Best Picture,
Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Score, Best Costumes,
Best Editing). The film had a host of acting nominations
(Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress) but
no awards, perhaps because the cast was not famous enough.
Impressed by the honors disposed by the Academy, a flood
of people rushed to the video store to rent "The English
Patient", having ignored it while it played in theaters.
They were confronted with a slow-moving art film nearly
three hours in length. Lots of great cinematography,
a heavy dose of romance, an unfamiliar (except Willem Dafoe)
cast, and a definite lack of action and stock characters.
I was a little disappointed by "The English Patient"
as well. John Seale's cinematography is excellent, and
the script is intelligent and appropriately sparse.
But while it is a very good film, it is not outstanding.
The film is slowly paced and drags at times. The half
of the story featuring nurse Juliette Binoche is not as
interesting as the half featuring pre-patient Ralph Fiennes.
Also (this complaint is really petty) the burn victim
is a dead ringer for the shape-shifter character on
"Star Trek: Deep Space Nine".
"The English Patient" has two storylines, one set in
1945 Italy, the other in 1938-1944 Africa. The first
story has Binoche playing a vibrant nurse who believes
that she is cursed: everyone that she loves dies.
She falls for seriously burned Fiennes, and has him
taken to a deserted monastery. They are soon visited
by threatening refugee Dafoe, who suspects that Fiennes
is a traitor, and Naveen Andrews, an Indian bomb squad
specialist who serves as love interest for Binoche.
The story of Fiennes' jaded but impassioned character is
told in intermittent flashbacks. He works for the British,
making maps of Africa just prior to World War II. Lovely
Kristin Scott Thomas, wife of one of Fiennes' friends,
joins the expedition. Thomas and Fiennes are thrown together
by events, and they have a torrid affair. Her husband
(Colin Firth) suspects.
"The English Patient" is beautifully filmed, but not
emotionally moving. The tearjerker ending is a little
contrived, and falls just short. There is one heckuva
plane crash, however.
Copyright © 1997 Brian Koller