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Mark me down as one of the people who can’t seem to figure out what all the fuss is or was about The English Patient. While I have nothing against a good romance every now and then and I cannot deny director Anthony Minghella’s (The Talented Mr. Ripley) way with the camera, I just find The English Patient to be one long melodramatic bore – an unrealistic World War II love story bordering on fantasy.
The story tells of a World War II nurse (Juliette Binoche) who has a tendency to fall in love with her patients that ends up having to care for a badly disfigured mystery patient (Ralph Fiennes). The film then tells the man’s story, from the 1930’s through the Second World War, as a series of flashbacks as he lay on his deathbed. What is revealed is a romantic drama involving an ill-fated love affair with a beautiful married woman (Kristin Scott Thomas), political intrigue, heartbreak, and betrayal.
Strip away the lavish cinematography of the Sahara from John Seale and the sweeping, sugary score by Gabriel Yared, and all there is left to The English Patient is a contrived war-time romance with lots of longing looks, stolen kisses, and not much else.
At a glance The English Patient’s AVC encodement from StudioCanal looks rather film-like, if a bit heavily grained and sometimes soft, but further examination reveals a tendency towards noisiness, especially in the darker parts of the image, but noticeable against the sandy backgrounds of the desert as well. Foreground details are strong, but detail tends to drop off a bit as it moves into the background. Flesh tones look good if just a smidgen red.
The soundtrack is a couple of notches above the video transfer for sure. The bombing scenes are really explosive, to be obvious, filling the front and surrounds with directional, discrete panning while the low frequencies are nicely extended to add a lot of weight. During the quieter passages, the entire room is often filled with the hushed sounds of breezes, the chirping of birds, or the buzzing of crickets. Dialogue is clear as well.
There are quite a few interviews on here with the filmmakers and with English Patient novelist Michael Ondaatje, but, alas, everything is DVD-era material and arrives in standard definition. The not one, but two audio commentaries might be enough to redeem this thrown together supplementary package.
The supplements provided with this release:
- Commentary with Director Anthony Minghella
- Commentary with Director and Screenwriter Anthony Minghella, Producer Saul Zaentz, and English Patient author Michael Ondaatje
- About Michael Ondaatje (1.33:1; PAL):
- His Writing Roots
- The Booker Prize and Canadian Following
- The Challenge of Turning the Novel into a Film
- About Writing the Novel
- Reading from the Novel
- From Novel to Screenplay – Interviews with Cast and Crew (1.33:1; PAL; 00:07:09)
- The Formidable Saul Zaentz (1.33:1; PAL; 00:01:59)
- Filmmaker Conversations (1.33:1; PAL):
- A Conversation with Screenwriter and Director Anthony Minghella
- A Conversation with Producer Saul Zaentz
- A Conversation with Writer Michael Ondaatje
- A Conversation with Film Editor Walter Murch
The Definitive Word
No, I’m not and probably never will be on The English Patient bandwagon, regardless of how many awards or other praises this film has garnered. Others may find differently, but in any case, if you are looking for a romance to fill up your weekend, then here is one, just don’t expect a reference looking release.
Additional Screen Captures
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