For the purpose of this article I am going to need to explain one of my cinematic beliefs. If I say that I like a movie, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a good movie. When I say that a movie is good, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I like the movie. What makes a film good are the components of it, the acting perfromances, the shot composition and the directing. A film can be very skillfully directed and I still may not like it. That doesn’t make it a bad movie, it just means I didn’t like it. This concept becomes ever so important during the context of this review because recently I watched the 1996 Oscar Best Picture winner The English Patient and, though I thought it was a good movie, I did not like it.
The film follows a flashback structure, bouncing back and forth from before and after WWII. The film opens by introducing us to an army nurse, Hana (Juliette Binoche), who is convinced that everybody she falls in love with will die. Working for a hospital unit that is forced to go mobile, Hana is taking care of a severe burn victim, Count Laszlo de Almasy (Ralph Fiennes). When the movement of the truck becomes too much for the dying man to bear, Hana volunteers to stay with and care for the man in an abandoned estate until he eventually passes onto the next life. As Hana cares for Laszlo, he tells her his story and the plot follows two timelines: the present and the past.
Though the film follows two different story lines, it focuses on one main theme: love. Laszlo’s past consists a dramatic love affair that started with an expedition to create a number of different maps. The expedition consists of a number of different people, most notably Laszlo, Geoffrey Clifton (Colin Firth) and his wife Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas). When Geoffrey is forced to leave, Katharine and Laszlo begin a painfully passionate affair. As the two fall in love with one another while dealing with Katharine’s marriage, the affair escalates and ultimately ends in tragedy.
As Laszlo’s story is revealed, Hana begins a love story of her own. As WWII comes to an end, bomb squads travel the countryside, searching for bombs and mines that have not yet been disarmed. When a minefield is found close to where Hana and Laszlo are staying, a bomb squad asks to use the same building as shelter. Hana agrees and eventually falls in love with a member of the squad, a man named Kip (Naveen Andrews). Hana, a woman who already believes that everybody she loves is cursed to die, has to try and deal with forming a relationship with a man who puts his life on the line everyday.
The acting in this film is truly outstanding. Ralph gives brilliant performances when playing both versions of his characters, the maimed burned victim and the heartbroken young man. Colin Firth lives up to the standards he created for himself, gracing the screen with the charm he is known for and a rare stint of jealousy. Making her character timid and strong at the same time, Juliette Binoche earned herself a Best Supporting Actress win for her performance. Kristin Scott Thomas gave a performance that would have made any female archeologist happy, excluding the affair of course, and earned her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Independent, strong and sure of her talents, Thomas’ character is the only female in a world dominated by men but the men seem more uncomfortable with her than she was with them.
The English Patient won the Best Picture Oscar in 1996, beating a number of great films. Going up against Shine, Jerry Maguire, the Coen Brothers’ Fargo as well as Secrets and Lies, I am somewhat surprised the English Patient came out victorious. Personally I would have given the win to Fargo but I am a little bias towards the Coen Brothers. Though I like Fargo better, I can still see the skill that went into this film and why it was chosen as the best film of 1996. Overall I give this film a 5 out of 10. This rating seems low but keep in mind my argument at the start of this blog. If I split the points between it being a good movie and a movie I like I would say it gets a 5 out of 5 for being a good film and a 0 out of 5 for being a film I like hence, 5 out of 10.