I am grateful to the turn of time. Personally, I could have never imagined my writings on cinema will ever travel beyond my register pages and find such traction in a platform as liberating as this. But here it is.
This writing on THE ENGLISH PATIENT was informed by my reading of the unforgettable book that graced my Masters in English curriculum and then I turned towards the celebrated cinematic interpretation the world was in full knowledge about. Both the experiences merged to create a lasting impression on me. Human relationships are tender and straddle lifetimes, definitive of our memories of a time in life and the people and places who leave a moist imprint of yesterdays collating with wells of present day remembrance.
THE ENGLISH PATIENT is a bridge to the silent articulations of lifetimes and I am privileged to share this written example from four years back with my readers here.
THE ENGLISH PATIENT (1996)
CAST : JULIETTE BINOCHE, RALPH FIENNES, KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS, WILLEM DAFOE, COLIN FIRTH, NAVEEN ANDREWS.
DIRECTION : ANTHONY MINGHELLA.
There are several cinematic works of art which aim to produce an immediately walloping impact on us with their scale and canvas. Some prefer the operatic brushstroke to entail the grace of an epic journey, created with the passion and delicacy of situations in which disparate people come together. THE ENGLISH PATIENT is the latter, mixing the scale and canvas of the former example with a sublime dramatic representation, luxuriating in its multiple concerns and central theme of splintered memories uniting with the company of others with a sober disposition, tastefully realized by Minghella. It’s a tricky thing to achieve but from the opening shots of the desert through to the intimate world of the people here, it lingers and tugs at our heartstrings.
At the outset, one needs to know that with its running time of nearly three hours, introspective passages of visual panorama and blistering medley of suppressed emotions, this could be a niche offering for those used to quick witted screenplays. As we settle down with patience as our talisman, the end result is one which deserves its stately sense of execution and works its trance like spell to move our hearts and minds.
THE ENGLISH PATIENT is based on the Booker Prize winning novel by MICHAEL ONDAATJE. Compassion for others and their perspectives informed by memory is paramount here. Memory aligned with pain of many contours are legacies central to these individuals.
Juliette Binoche irradiates warmth of selfless humanity as Hana, the Canadian nurse who decides to tend to the eponymous English Patient, as World War 2 draws to a close and the dance of identity grips her muddled conscience. Like the derelict villa which lodges both of them in Sicily’s stark landscape, the two are essentially broken colossi of impaired desires, the patient in body and Hana in soul. The soul has been haunted in both cases.
Thrust into this uncertain epicenter of internalized chaos and post war paranoia is the interpersonal camaraderie among them and two other men, making this a rare occasion for interaction of the two genders, with a lone woman finding her strength against the concerns of these two others . Without sexualising this trio, it is about men and women looking out for each other in the spirit of communal harmony.
One is Carravagio ( Willem Dafoe), an acquaintance of Hana and her father who has dabbled in amorality , and Kip ( Naveen Andrews), an Indian soldier with experience on his side, in the war on the ground and inside his mind. Willem Dafoe bears a hawk like precision and cunning while Naveen is at his reserved best as the man who awakens Hana’s dormant world, eventually playing the tune of a melodic lullaby on her senses to lull the pain of years of denial and regrets. Her selflessness, you see, in line of duty has become a burden of profound weight. Their relationship, sensual and enduring, is a play of equals.
As Hana holds fort for them, the script arcs are interspersed with past images of the English Patient / Count Almasy’s tryst with forbidden love that panned out in the harsh climes of Cairo. Ralph Fiennes lends authenticity to his flashback portions as the charming man put to finding mysteries of the world as a cartographer and uncovering his own while as the scarred, bandaged, bed ridden blank slate of an enigma, he is equally tuned into the everyday physical struggles and immobility. Kristin Scott Thomas and Colin Firth are excellent as the doomed, newly married couple caught in the cross currents of a tumultuous time.
Long shots and close ups are effectively employed here to beautifully embellish John Seale’s cinematographic polish and Gabriel Yared’s score is a boon for those looking to be immersed in ethereal cinematic aesthetes. The wail of the violin accompanies the characters’ tensile nerves as also the movement in their lives. Their lives are pitted against the crack of doom occasioned by nature, war and the discovery of companionship in unexpected crannies of human existence.
Their hearts are like moors cultivated with histories of desires and readers of the novel like me will find a deeper resonance with the shifts in moods. Let’s not forget to say that it’s faithful to the source material in all earnestness.
There is a transcendental quality to THE ENGLISH PATIENT, in paper and on screen, that channels the power of memories. These are memories deeply entrenched in our souls and they define us. They may be a burden, curse or a boon and saddle us with strings of past, present and future. Here, they are a mix of all of the above.
I believe life is a revelation when we weigh fistful of joys with a handful of sorrows. This beautiful work of art honors that credo and comes with power packed performances and the transience of life’s trajectory.