THE ENGLISH PATIENT
MULTILAYERED, MULTINATIONAL - AND
Primarily about four strangers whose diverse lives become
inextricably connected. The story is told largely through the
eyes of an unknown English patient, the sole survivor of a plane
shot down near the beginning of World War II, his mind awash with
a life's worth of secrets and passions. As tales of the past and
present unfold, the characters reveal themselves to one another
and two love stories emerge. Their dangerous journeys from Cairo
through the Sahara desert take them toward the conclusion in an
abandoned Italian monastery at the close of the war.
Andrew L. Urban reports on the film that is
quite possibly the next Best Film Oscar winner, The English
Ralph Fiennes puts his finger on it when he
says "It wasnít just my part, you see, it was the
context in which it all happened." Context. Thatís the
point of it, the truth of it. Nothing is true out of its context.
Ralph is talking about his reaction to the script, which has
retained much of Michael Ondaatjeís multilayered writing
from the novel. It is no surprise to learn that Michael is a poet
as well as Booker Prize winning author. The beauty and economy of
poetry is evident throughout the film, and matched by the visual
poetry of John Sealeís cinematography.
Anthony Minghellaís remark about the bookís mosaic
quality is another pointer: "As a film maker Iíve taken
my cue as much from musical form as from storytelling. This is
not a three act film." Anthony has, however, worked to a
more formal structure than Michael did in his book, and extracted
key characters, abandoning "whole limbs" as he puts it.
The mosaic quality remains, though, in the way the film tracks
across the sands of time, returning to the past in a way that
illuminates the present, never failing in its balancing act of
Producer Saul Zaentzís Tuscany home was the venue for a
crucial meeting in 1992, where he, Anthony and Michael explored
how they would adapt the book into a screenplay. For Zaentz - who
produced two of the most memorable movies in recent times, One
Flew Over the Cuckooís Nest and Amadeus - Michael
Ondaatjeís book was profoundly moving. "He makes us
think about war and nationalism, and he has also created two
great love stories ...itís a very passionate story, not just
about love, but about what people believe in, what they find
Written by a Canadian who was born in Sri Lanka and educated in
England and Canada, The English Patient is set in the second
world war, and brings together people of various nationalities
and backgrounds. Likewise the film: the English director, the
American producer, English, Indian, American and French
Juliet Binoche, multi-award winning French actress, read the book
and felt she understood the character of Hana. "But when we
filmed I never planned anything because I never know how a scene
would be. Only when Iím talking before the cameras or
touching another character, then it becomes real and I can say
that I understand the truth of what is happening."
American Oscar winning character actor Willem Defoe didnít
even think about which character he wanted to play when he read
the book. "But when Anthony and Saul said they were
interested in my playing Caravaggio, it was like trying on a
suit. You start to warm up to it and say yes, this is my suit,
Iím the only one to play the role. Now I believe it.
Itís a curious thing. I feel completely identified with this
resourceful, wily man."
As Anthony points out, Defoe has great screen presence and is
"a natural subversiveÖbrings to Caravaggio enormous
charm and mischief."
In the role of Kip, the young sikh in the British Army in Italy,
who falls in love with Hana, Naveen Andrews displays his
confidence-with-vulnerability, a quality Anthony wanted for this
role. "He is hugely charismatic and exciting," says
Anthony. Commenting on his cast, Anthony pays tribute: "The
whole company of actors from diverse backgrounds and
nationalities shares the same insistence on emotional rigour.
None of them will cheat and in such turbulent material, that
integrity is vital."
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CAST: Ralph Fiennes,
Juliette Binoche, Kristin Scott Thomas, Willem Defoe, Naveen
Andrews, Colin Firth, JĀrgen Prochnow; directed by Anthony
WRITER & DIRECTOR:
Anthony Minghella (based on Michael Ondaatje's Booker
PRODUCER: Saul Zaentz
AWARDS: Golden Globe
Awards - Best Picture (Drama); Best Score
RUNNING TIME: 160 mins
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March
Academy Awards 1997: Best Film, Best Director, Best Costumes, Best Editing, Best Adapted Script, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Original Score