The English Patient 1.0 stars

English Patient movie poster

A kind of anti-Casablanca wherein there is no nobler cause than the fortress of love. It has mystery, romance, two romances in fact, a period setting, desert scenery, a backdrop of war, though none of these in sufficient quantity to necessitate nearly two-and-three-quarter hours of screen time. Neither of the romances — that of a dashing Hungarian count and the wife of a British spy in pre-WWII Africa, or that of an Italian nurse and a Sikh bomb-defuser near the end of the war, while the Hungarian count now lies dying, hideously disfigured by fire, slowly doling out his secrets, in a ruined Tuscan villa — is very well-developed or involving. Both have blatant bits of female-appeal that border on the oily and the drippy: the count's sensitive, aesthetic appreciation of what we learn to call the "supersternal notch" at the base of a woman's throat, and the Sikh's candle-lighted pathway to a nocturnal trysting spot. The movie, in addition to its mystery and romance and so on, has a literary pedigree: the Booker Prize-winning novel by Michael Ondaatje, said by some to be unfilmable. (Found by others to be unreadable.) And at least some of the extreme length in this incident-thin narrative can be attributed to mere time-killing in order to attain the sort of scope that commonly distinguishes an Important Work. Or commonly disguises an unimportant one. The ending no doubt has its payoff, but the pickings en route are slim. Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe; written and directed by Anthony Minghella. 1996.

Duncan Shepherd

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