The English Patient

What’s the big deal? I haven’t read Michael Ondaatje’s novel, but I suspect it’s better than this streamlined (if still long-winded) 1996 adaptation by writer-director Anthony Minghella (Truly Madly Deeply). A good old-fashioned love story and tearjerker with more than a touch of David O. Selznick, it’s reasonably well told and well mounted but little more. The intricate flashback structure at times recalls Marguerite Duras (though this is slicker); it moves between the Italian front near the end of World War IIwhere a French-Canadian nurse (Juliette Binoche) cares for a seriously burned patient (Ralph Fiennes) who claims he doesn’t know who he isand North Africa during the late 30s, when the patient, revealed as a Hungarian count and mapmaker, fell in love with a married woman (Kristin Scott Thomas). Memories of better movies ranging from Casablanca to Bitter Victory aren’t inappropriate here, but for all the film’s effectiveness as a love story, I often felt I was being hurried through a busy itinerary; some of the secondary characters (notably the nurse, a former thief played by Willem Dafoe, and a Sikh bomb detector played by Naveen Andrews) never get enough of the movie’s attention. With Colin Firth and Jurgen Prochnow. (JR)

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