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|February 17, 2001||
Fine, thank you!
I have seen The English Patient many times before, but I was only too glad to see it again.
The sweeping, epic adaptation of Michael Ondaatje's WWII-era novel chronicling the life of European explorer Count Laszlo Almasy (Ralph Fiennes) is well-worth repeated viewings.
The Count's torrid affair with his colleague's wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) is set against the backdrop of the first rumblings of war, disfiguring injuries, and his Nazi sympathies (with Willem Dafoe playing the role of the man out to get Laszlo for his seeming deception).
The patient's stay at the ruins of an Italian monastery under the care of an emotionally injured French-Canadian nurse (Juliette Binoche) serves as a framing device for an intriguing story that shuttles between the present and the past.
The format has two stories running side by side -- the story of Fiennes and Scott Thomas in the past, and the story of Binoche and Naveen Andrews playing the role of the Sikh soldier Kip (Kirpal Singh) in the present.
The mounting is lush, rich, like watching a painting come alive. John Seale won an Oscar for best cinematography for this film.
The music by Gabried Yared (again an Oscar-winner, for best soundtrack) is a stunner, the highlight being the notes played on the harp in the theme song. Another extraordinary piece is the Hungarian lullaby Szerelem Szerelem.
Screenwriter and Director Anthony Minghella was a busy radio and television writer before making his directorial debut in 1991 with the acclaimed Truly Madly Deeply, a love story starring Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman.
Minghella's second film, the Matt Dillon-Mary Louise Parker romance Mr Wonderful (1993), left him disillusioned with major-studio filmmaking.
Nevertheless, he was prepared to make The English Patient with Twentieth Century Fox until the studio changed its mind five weeks before shooting was to begin in 1995.
Saul Zaentz, the producer of two Best Picture Oscar-winners (One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus), ultimately persuaded the more adventurous independent distributor Miramax (a Disney subsidiary) to contribute $26 million of the film's $31 million production cost.
The English Patient received twelve Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture, to lead the pack of Oscar contenders.
It's a remarkable achievement, and vindication for a film that all the major Hollywood studios declined to finance, balking at the unconventional cast and the film's other supposedly 'uncommercial' elements.
The 150-minute film takes its time setting up the pace, and building it to the emotional crest. For those who have forgotten the depth of romance and passion that movies are capable of conveying, this film comes as a timely reminder. My only grouse is that while the Fiennes and Kristen is superbly etched, the love story between the nurse and Kip isn't as impressive, till the very end.
The acting is uniformly brilliant, though it does seem a touch sad that the talented Ralph Fiennes seems to have become stuck with a tragic Count image, which he reprised again in the Neil Jordan film An End Of An Affair.
And for once, you see an Indian actor being given a proper part in the film without being reduced to a caricature. It needs mentioning, though, that at times the put-on Indian accent jars on your nerves somewhat.
Overall, this is a must-not-miss film, its lyrical storytelling coming as a breath of much needed fresh air in an era of instant gratification.
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