Having seen The English Patient, winner of nine Academy Awards, during its 1996 release, I didn’t plan to watch it again on DVD. I was interested only in the bonus features on this new Collector’s Edition from Miramax Home Entertainment. But, after hearing the stimulating commentary of filmmaker Anthony Minghella and others associated with the movie, I became suspicious of my original negative reactions to this Oscar-winning film -- so I gave it another chance. And I’m glad I did. My opinion completely flip-flopped.
What seemed to me disjointed upon first viewing now appears perfectly clear and involving. By jumping back and forth in time with seamless grace, director Minghella, who also adapted the script from Michael Ondaatje’s poetic book, successfully blends two almost separate stories that focus on one man’s relationship with two very different women during the World War II era. Fortunately, Minghella had expert help from a top-notch cast (Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Juliette Binoche, Colin Firth), an outstanding obsessive-compulsive editor (Walter Murch), and an acclaimed cinematographer (John Seale).
The overriding theme of The English Patient concerns a passionate, adulterous love affair between Count Almasy (Fiennes) and Katharine Clifton (Scott Thomas), who is married to Geoffrey Clifton (Firth). Beginning in the 1930s when the British Cliftons joined Hungarian map-maker Almasy to chart the Sahara Desert, this illicit affair leads to tragedy for everyone concerned, mostly as a result of World War II politics. Almasy ends up with a hideously burned face, precious little memory about his identity, and a lovely Canadian nurse (Binoche) taking care of him in a bombed-out monastery during his last days. Gradually Almasy remembers (and we see in flashbacks) his ill-fated romance with Katharine.
This is a very sad movie, indeed – but one filled with cinematic artistry. Any movie showing Juliette Binoche (who won the Best Supporting Oscar for her heartfelt performance here) hoisted aloft by ropes and carrying a flare to see gorgeous paintings on the walls of an old building is worth watching more than once. Combining the look and feel of Dr. Zhivago with the terrifying desert beauty of Lawrence of Arabia, The English Patient evokes a dreamlike fascination as it plays out its drama of discovery, romance, betrayal, war and compassion.
Included among the fine bonus features in this 2-disc Collector’s Edition are: feature commentary by the remarkable Anthony Minghella; “The Making of The English Patient,” a CBC documentary; a historical look at the real Count Almasy; filmmaker conversations with producer Saul Zaentz, novelist Michael Ondaatje, editor Walter Murch; and interviews with the cast and crew.
(Released by Miramax Home Entertainment and rated “R” for sexuality, some violence and language. Bonus features unrated and subject to change.)