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).