The first time I saw The English Patient (1996) was with the Toronto press, about fifteen of us in the massive Uptown theater at Yonge and Bloor, one of the best cinemas in the city, now gone.
I sat watching the film, trying to get into it, wondering why anyone would want to be with any of these people (Juliette Binoche exempt; she was lovely) and not finding a spark between the two lovers at all. Without a spark, without heat between two characters in love, you do not have a movie. Yet I continued to try until the scene in the cave where Katherine is mortally wounded and the Count is going for help. I held back the urge to leap to my feet and yell, “Die for God’s sakes ! Die so this nightmare can end and we can go home !”
I hated ‘The English Patient’ from start to finish. In fact, I have watched it again since that first time to make sure I hate it. And yes, I hated it the second time too.
Clearly I’m in the minority as it was a critical and box office success. Yes, the craft that went into it was fine. Yes, it looked much more expensive than it was, and again the Binoche performance was excellent — I could have watched an entire film devoted to her story.
Why do I hate the film then ? First and foremost, it’s a bore. I could not understand how anyone could love either Katherine or Almasy, and the actors that portrayed them Kristen Scott-Thomas and Ralph Fiennes brought. There’s not an iota of warmth to either character, giving me no reason to see why one would love the other.
Nominated for an incredible twelve Academy Awards, it would win nine, leaving me speechless, though I did smile when Binoche won Best Supporting Actress. I could not believe the Academy chose to honor this instead of Fargo (1996) the acerbic black comedy from the Coens; Jerry Maguire (1996), the excellent Cameron Crowe love story with Tom Cruise in a performance that should have won him an Oscar; or The Crucible (1996) the brilliant adaptation of Arthur Miller’s play that was highly touted as the film of the year only to disappear upon release despite strong reviews.
Yet even those fine films were not my personal choice as the year’s best, which would be the wild black comedy Trainspotting (1996) directed by Danny Boyle. A furious, energetic ride through Soctland with its heroin addicts, the film makes no judgement on addiction, it simply plunges us into that world and all hell breaks loose.
Does anyone remember ‘The English Patient’ ? Elaine Benes of Seinfeld does and she hated it too !
The answer is no, the film is forgotten and so it should be. Yet Fargo (1996) is widely remembered as a superb film with outstanding performances from its wonderful cast. Jerry Maguire (1996) too is well thought of, though Cameron Crowe has not made a great film since Almost Famous (2000), and though The Crucible (1996) never found the audience it deserved, when it came out on DVD, it was adored.
And Trainspotting (1996) is a cult classic that once seen cannot be forgotten.
It does not seem possible twenty years have passed since I saw these films. After the press screenings, I would then take my wife to the films for date night. She is gone now too, lost to cancer of the brain four years ago. Yet again the films are immortal, the memory of discussing them with my wife is there, and some grow in stature with time and many like ‘The English Patient’ shrink and are covered by the sands of time.