The English Patient (1996)

The discovery of a severely burned survivor of a plane crash in the Sahara during WWII begins an epic melodrama of love and war.

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“Vast landscapes mingle with the minute details of desire, and the combination is transfixing.”
Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, 1996

Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning novel The English Patient was widely considered unfilmable because of its complex narrative structure. This interweaves the friendship of a charred, bedridden Hungarian cartographer (Ralph Fiennes) and his nurse (Juliette Binoche) with scenes of his earlier affair with a colleague’s wife (Kristin Scott Thomas).

Nothing in Anthony Minghella’s hitherto modest career as a writer-director suggested he was the man for the job. All the more remarkable, then, that this is such an elegant and passionate picture, genuinely sweeping but also attentively observed.

The film was rewarded with nine Oscars, including for Gabriel Yared’s stirring score, John Seale’s cinematography and the dexterous editing of Walter Murch, which confidently pilots the film back and forth through time.

Ondaatje and Murch went on to collaborate on a fascinating book on editing, The Conversations (2002). Minghella directed only three further cinema features before his death in 2008.

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