Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient (1996)

Rarely did a movie deserve the Academy Awards as much as The English Patient. It is one of the most beautiful war romances that I have ever seen. Or, to be accurate, two of the most beautiful romances as the movie tells two parallel stories. Based on Michael Ondaatje’s wonderful eponymous novel, The English Patient combines everything that an accomplished movie needs. Beautiful pictures, a touching story, an intriguing plotline, wonderful music, great characters  and outstanding actors. This is one of the movies that I have watched at least three times and every time I discovered another layer. It is surprisingly rich and, I would argue, flawless.

They call him “The English Patient” (Ralph Fiennes), the mysterious man, they rescued from a shot down airplane in the desert during WWII. He is heavily burned, will probably not survive. They bring him to Italy and a young nurse, Hana (Juliette Binoche), volunteers to stay back and take care of him. She moves with him into an abandoned villa. He doesn’t know his identity but Hana finds a notebook and with its help the memory returns slowly and the story unfolds in flashbacks.

They are not alone for long, Kip (Naveen Andrews), a young Sikh and the thief David Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe) join her. Kip is part of a bomb disposal unit and the growing love between Hana and him is the second love story in this movie. It is beautiful but by far less tragic than that between the English patient and his lover. Caravaggio adds even another story line to the already rich plot. He is someone who thinks he knows who the badly burned man is. In fact he is sure that the patient is someone who wronged him once.

The flashbacks show us the mysterious patient, the Hungarian Count Almásy, 1930 in the Sahara desert. He is a mapmaker of the Royal Geographical Society. At the beginning of WWII he is still in the Sahara where he meets the British agent Geoffrey Clifton (Colin Firth) and his beautiful wife Catherine  (Kristin Scott Thomas). Despite their fighting the attraction, they fall in love. They have an affair that ends abruptly when Catherine breaks it off. They meet again later and the following events make this probably one of the most tragic movie romances of all time.

The figure of Count Almásy is actually based on a real person, only his story was a different one.

The nurse Hana is certainly one of the most appealing nurses in any war movie. The gentleness and devotion with which she takes care of the dying man is touching. I am sure that there were many nurses like her in different wars and they deserve an homage.  I have a great deal of admiration for these courageous, disinterested women.

The intensity of the interwoven stories, the mysteries, the wonderful settings (the desert, Italy during the war, the Italian villa), the gripping part of the bomb defusing, all this together make this an absolute must-see.  Last but not least I’d like to mention the beautiful score by Gabriel Yared (you can listen to it here).

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The Violinist Itzhak Perlman on Schindler’s List and performing John Williams’ Theme

Itzhak Perlman is maybe the most renowned violinist of our time. It was certainly particularly lucky that he accepted to perform the violin for the score of Schindler’s List. The score contributed  to a very large extent to the success of this movie. .

NaPolA Elite für den Führer aka Before the Fall (2004) Looking into the Mechanics of Black Pedagogy

To call this movie brilliant is an understatement. The German movie NaPola is quite an achievement. It perfectly illustrates the German concept of Schwarze Pädagogik meaning Poisonous or Black Pedagogy. Psychologists believe today that this harmful pedagogy was one of the root causes for the success of Hitler and the wide acceptance of Nazism.

NaPola is the story of two boys,  their friendship and “the pity of it all”. Friedrich (Max Riemelt) personifies the Nazi ideal to a high degree. Strong, able, intelligent. A talented young boxer. It doesn´t take long and he is recruited for one of Hitler´s NaPolA´s (National Political Academy) where the elite of German youth is trained, educated and above all fanaticized. NaPolA´s are in part boot camp, in part higher education. Once in school, he meets Albrecht (Tom Schilling), the son of a Gauleiter. Albrecht is the very opposite of Friedrich. He is  frail, sensitive and intellectual. His father, a fanatic,  obnoxious idiot hates his son´s guts. Albrecht personifies everything  he despises. Too small, too weak, too spiritual. Because Albrecht´s father is a Gauleiter, life at the NaPola is not so difficult for him  as he is protected. For Friedrich it is not difficult as he is very sporting and strong but many of the others show sings of being traumatized. Discipline, total obedience and endurance are the key words of this education. As unlikely as it seems, the two boys like each other a lot and become very close friends until the tragic end. The story of the two boys is exemplary for many stories of children and young people who were sent to NaPola´s. Towards the end of the war, when it was quite obvious that Germany was going to lose, Hitler sent all the boys from the Napola´s to the front where 50% of them died.

Everybody who knows me or follows this blog knows I am a sucker for great score. None other than Angelo Badalamenti (see all the scores and listen to his work on his fantastic Homepage) who did the scores for two of my top favourite movies Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway (Yes, they are not war movies.) did the score for NaPolA. It´s perfection. Badalamenti is no Hans Zimmer, he is far more subtle.

This is a 5/5 star movie and  a must-see for many reasons.

I would like to point out that whoever is interested in some psychological analysis of the Third Reich may find ample material in Erich Fromm´s The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness and Alice Miller´s For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence.

Further war movies with children or young people can be found on my list Children in War Movies.

War Movie Soundtrack: Black Hawk Down by Hans Zimmer

Many war movies have incredible soundtracks with haunting music that contributes to the appeal of the films themselves.

One of the most outstanding is the soundtrack to Black Hawk Down by the renowned German composer Hans Zimmer. He´s the creator of many famous film soundtracks. He did the score for  The Thin Red Line, Gladiator, The Last Samurai, King Arthur and  The Pacific, to name but a few.