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The English Patient

Year: 1996
Director: Anthony Minghella
Writer: Anthony Minghella
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Kirstin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth, Willem Dafoe, Jurgen Prochnow, Naveen Andrews
Every time I read about this film since it won the 1996 Best Picture Oscar, someone seems to be bagging it in some way. Like Life is Beautiful, it seems like the buzz surrounding the film blinded audiences and the Academy and as soon as the dust of hysteria settled everyone realised how bad it was.

A young nurse during World War Two (Binoche) comes across a horribly disfigured soldier and offers to stay behind and care for him on a farm in Tuscany. As she tends him she falls under the spell of a local Indian soldier who opens her eyes to all manner of the delights of life.

In tandem, we're shown the story of the wounded man in flashbacks, the central European count Almasy (Fiennes) and the love triangle that led to his current predicament. He fell in love with the wife of a British pilot (Thomas), and despite their best efforts to forget each other and undo the passion that would destroy them both, their affair takes them across the desert wastes of Africa.

I was very interested in the doomed affair story and every time the movie switched back to the farm, nurse and invalid it felt like they belonged in another movie. It seemed like Minghella wanted to tell both stories, couldn't afford two movies and so elbowed them into the one.

It also took awhile for the interesting part of the movie to kick into gear, but by the time Almasy has walked all the way back to the army barracks and tried to take the car to return to his lover I felt every fibre of heartache and desperation. What he finds when he finally returns to the cave broke my heart as much as it did his.

I can see why so many have since decided they didn't like it. If films can have a gender, this had a very female approach to the material much like the movies of Merchant Ivory do. What that means on the screen is a very soft touch with a minimum of action and movement but a lot of emotion and entanglement.

I don't know if it was the best film of the year, but up against films like Jerry Maguire and Fargo it was a dead cert.

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