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Saturday, February 21, 2009

1996 Oscar: one scene in The English Patient


I watch few movies now, and I can't for the life of me list the nominees for Sunday night's Oscars show the way I once did, let alone say I've seen them all. I know there's Pitt and Winslet, a Slumdog and a Wrestler.

So I'll do what aging people do when they start losing touch with the changes around them: I'll reminisce. About a 1996 film about WWII, too famous and parodied for you to be ignorant of it. But even so, it gets me thinking about how sorry we all are for this fractured world, and sorry for ourselves too.

So, in the movie, there is brutal war among the world's powerful governments trying to shape boundaries and mindsets in the decades to come. Human beings and Nature together have grown soft and muddy with grief, hatred and killing.

For Hana war is not just a story in the news. She has watched her best friend explode in a jeep that hit a mine. Then in the hospital tent under mortar attack she has discovered that her lover, an officer in another regiment, has been killed. As a war nurse, her ears are deafened with bomb blasts and agonized whimpers of broken men. She holds their torn flesh and bones like crushed fruit.

So when Kip the mine sweeper carries her on his scooter into town for an escape and a surprise, Hana's whole body lights up with childish anticipation. They enter an empty church where frescoed murals adorn the walls up high. Too high, and invisible in an unlighted church. Kip harnesses her on a hanging rope with himself as counter-weight on the other end, hands her a flare after lighting it, and hoists her to the level of the paintings. He operates the rope deftly as if he has practiced this every night for a week, causing her to sway gently in a hanging dance that he controls so she can examine the painted faces up close while she twists and dangles.

Kip knew Hana could not extricate herself from the plodding pain engulfing her, just as he himself had struggled to block out the strain of his mine sweeping job. As love surprised them, he shared a secret window of art and joy with her. I appreciate the grace of the scene for showing two people crushed with war fatigue determined to absorb available beauty, for each others sake as much as for their own.


56 comments:

willow said...

I adore this movie. I've seen it dozens of times and never tire of it. My favorite scene is when Kip shows Hana the frieze paintings. Nice review.

traveler one said...

Oh Ruth.... thank you for the reminder of my absolute favourite scene in my most favourite movie (and book) EVER. MMMMMM so delicious.

Edward Yablonsky said...

I watched the video and read your comments: The beauty of the art amid a sea of war an oasis as real as the supposed unreality of the war around them. A realtiy created for that moment. A moment I htoroughly relished. THANK YOU

Susan said...

That is a beautiful scene in a movie I've never been able to watch because of Ralph Fiennes. I can't watch any of his films after seeing him in 'Schindler's List'. He was so evil in that picture that I just can't get over that image. Obviously he is a great actor to leave me with that strong of a reaction, but I just can't do it.

I love Juliette Binoche though, and I watch 'Chocolat' every time I see it in the TV listings.

kanmuri said...

I saw this movie when I was in high school and the only thing I really remember is being utterly bored by it. Maybe at the time I didn't have what it took to appreciate it. I guess I should give it a second chance...

Ruth said...

Thanks, Willow. I haven't watched the movie that many times yet, but I did see it 5 times in the theater in '96. I kept thinking of new people to take.

Ruth said...

Hi, Traveler One, you're welcome, thanks for stopping by. The oil-filled snail shells leading to Kip's room are another vivid image I can't forget.

Ruth said...

Hi, Edward, if you haven't seen it, the movie is full of such moments. I could write a post about many of them.

Ruth said...

Hi there, Susie Q. I hear you. I must say that Fiennes in TEP is pretty intense. I'm trying to remember if he even smiled! He must have. In 1996 I was enamored with the love story between his character and Kristin Scott Thomas's. But now, I am more taken with the Kip-Hana love story. I think that reflects how I've changed. Hmm, have to think about that.

'Chocolat' is one of Lesley's favorites. Binoche is a wonder. Have you seen the 'Blue,' 'White' and 'Red' tricolors trilogy written and directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski? 'Blue' is my favorite. I recommend seeing these. I think Kieslowski likes high heels, which show off Binoche's legs.

mystic rose said...

I watched this movie only because you recommended it so higly Ruth and I loved it. The intensity of the whole story. And yet it didnt feel fast or slow, just right. It is so well made.

Susan said...

Ruthie, I will definitely check out those movies. I remember reading something about them a few years ago. Binoche does have gorgeous legs.

Ruth said...

Kanmuri, when I saw it I must have been at just the right time in life for it, because I saw it 5 times in the theater. I couldn't get enough of it. Then when it came out on video, I didn't want to see it again.

I hope you'll try it again. Maybe it will work for you.

Ruth said...

Mystic, there are some epics that feel plodding and boring to me. I agree that TEP is just right.

Gwen Buchanan said...

so romantic Ruth...

Kip did a lot of planning to woo this girl... that was a lot of candles along the path way..

shicat said...

Ruth, that was such a great movie. I need to see it again. I am in a similar space in time as Hana and Kip were. My dearest friend is very ill, as you know, and I just want to absorb every moment,every conversation,every laugh,every tear...determined to absorb it all,savor our friendship and our time. xoxo

Judy said...

Ruth..... can you help me! I'm trying to figure out how to get a Youtube video into my blog. I've seen you do it several times. Can you walk me through the steps? I'd be most grateful!
Jsebern@aol.com

Judy in Iowa

MAXIMUS said...

"...determined to absorb available beauty..." I'll keep these words in my mind.

As for the movie, I've seen it only once. It is a real masterpiece, but I've never watched it ever since, even when it was on TV. I find the first scenes heart-rending, with her flying(knowing now that she's dead), along with this sad music.

♥ Kathy said...

I have never seen this movie..I'm definitely going to now! Thank you Ruth :)

ds said...

Ruth, I loved this movie, but I confess the scene I remember most vividly is the one where Ralph Fiennes leaves Kristin Scott Thomas in the cave. Totally forgot about Kip and Hana (Binoche is luminous!). Thank you for the lovely reminder. Now i need to see it again!

Ginnie said...

One of the best movies of all time, Ruth, and YOU were the one who turned me on to it all those years ago!

Peter said...

There are some magic moments in life - and on cinema! This is certainly one! (... and I remember of course that Juliette got an Oscar - not so often to a French actress.) I'm afraid I have seen the film only once. Now, I feel that I just have to buy the DVD!

Loring Wirbel said...

I'd almost forgotten that scene. Your description of it is better than the original.

Loring Wirbel said...

Susan - What about Donald Sutherland as the sadistic fascist in "1900," smashing children's heads against the wall? If I had to give up on Sutherland after "1900," I can't imagine all the wonderful scenes I'd miss.

Hildegarde said...

Beautiful scene in this movie that I know very well too. To stick to, to absord, to concentrate on beauty is indeed a very good way to survive, I agree.

Oliag said...

..as soon as I saw that picture I remembered the thrill I got when I saw it for the first time...it is my favorite part of one of my favorite movies...

freefalling said...

I've never seen it.
I can't believe it was released in 1996!
I shall go and watch it this very minute.
oh okay - in the very near future?

I'm loving Floozie's portrait.

Ruth said...

Gwen, even though I know a movie crew made that snail shell candle path, Kip seems the kind of guy who would really do that. He doesn't seem to be in a hurry.

Ruth said...

Cathy, it is so sad about your friend. My friend Inge had breast cancer 5 years ago. After she started treatment she said that during those months she felt the most centered and peaceful of her life, because she was focusing on what matters. It was simple in a way.

Thankfully, she survived. But now, back to 'normal' life, it isn't easy to focus that way.

Ruth said...

Judy, so glad the video worked out. But I don't see it at your blog.

Ruth said...

Hi, MAXIMUS. Gabriel Yared's music is perfectly suited to the film, the story, the cinematography. Everything meshes as such a complexly woven piece of fabric that it is just brilliant. Yes, that opening scene, and the scene in the cave, tore my heart out.

Ruth said...

Hope you enjoy, Kathy!

Ruth said...

DS, oh! When she is writing by the lamp light. Is anything more heart wrenching? Ondaatje's in beautiful words through Catharine about the palace of winds:

''My darling,
I'm waiting for you.
How long is a day in the dark?
Or a week?
The fire is gone now...
and I’m horribly cold.
I really ought to drag myself outside
but then there'd be the sun.
I'm afraid I waste the light...
on the paintings and on writing these words.
We die.
We die.
We die rich with lovers and tribes
tastes we have swallowed
bodies we have entered...
and swum up like rivers.
Fears we have hidden in
like this wretched cave.
I want all this marked on my body.
We're the real countries.
Not the boundaries drawn on maps
the names of powerful men.
l know you'll come and carry me out into the
palace of winds.
That's all I’ve wanted
to walk in such a place with you
with friends.
An Earth without maps.
The lamp's gone out
and I'm writing...
in the darkness.''

Ruth said...

Boots, one of those times I didn't worry about whether you'd like it.

Ruth said...

Peter, wasn't it the first time a non-US citizen had won best actress? Then later I think for the French woman who played Edith Piaf?

Ruth said...

Ha, Loring, you think? I get lost in it.

Ruth said...

Oh, and Loring, Don and I watched '1900' after your recommendation, but I can't remember that about Sutherland's character! Hmm.

Ruth said...

Hi there, Hildegarde, I missed you.

Your paintings are illustration that you live that.

Ruth said...

Oliag, yay!

Ruth said...

Get thee out, Letty and watch!

Floozie is such a snoop!

Barry said...

That scene was a very powerful life enhancing moment in a film about an ugly time in history.

I remember it vividly.

Ruth said...

Barry, it's such a respite. Film making, when it's good, is astonishingly simple. Ondaatje wrote a brilliant novel and a brilliant screenplay, and so different from each other.

alice said...

Hello Ruth, this film is so touching. Story, actors, music...each piece works to form a whole.
Just an anecdote since you write yourself about the music, I have been lucky enough to meet Gabriel Yared several times just when he had his Oscar, he has been living in l'île aux Moines for several years, 15 mn from Arradon. His son had brought the Oscar to school! Not so many little French pupils could say "I have seen it in real!"

CottageGirl said...

Lovely scene!
How did I miss the film? I've heard of it, of course!

OOOOHHHH...

There are times in your life when going to the movies is an activity that is down at the bottom of the priority list...

I remember! I was attending grad school and at the same time working at a new school. Our kids where still home and highly involved in the high school sports thing. (How on earth did I accomplish anything?)

This movie I'm putting at the top of my list! Thanks once again, Ruth!

Ruth said...

Alice, so! Is it really heavy?

That's exciting, must be a thrill to meet him, such an amazing talent.

Ruth said...

Cottage Girl, hi! I understand completely. Grad school and kids?!

I'm like that now, not that I have more important priorities, but I just don't get out as much. It's so nice to stay inside. Even DVDs aren't all that appealing to me. But if you ever have a recommendation, I'll listen.

Loring Wirbel said...

Ruth, did you watch the two-disc, five-hour version of "1900"? There's several edited versions around (and one even longer than that!), but the five-hour version has the torturing-kids scene. So did you like "1900"? I love Robert DeNiro's line "The padrone is alive."

rauf said...

ah you must be watching the Oscars now ?

i watched Juliet Binoche receiving the Oscar, she was gorgeous. i had to see Kristin Scott Thomas as The English Patient was not released here in India, won 9 Oscars. Music, cinematography, apart from best director and best movie. So i went after 'The horse whisperer' to see Kristin Scott Thomas. very delicate features. When i saw your picture for the first time i thought you looked like KST, very beautiful, but your longer hair made you look a bit different.
Finally got to watch 'The English patient' it was a misery for me as the movie has to be watched on the big screen, not on TV. i would have enjoyed it lot more if i had watched it in a theatre. KST was nominated for leading role, Though i liked Francis McDormand in Fargo, which i had seen by then, later i felt KST deserved the Oscar. Cuba Gooding Jr. made a lot of noise then who got the best supporting with Binoche. After that it was al downhill for me. i don't remember much.

i didn't have the courage to watch 'The English patient' again, but got to watch it recently, every frame is a poem Ruth. The only other movie is Dr. Zhivago where every frame is a painting.

Ruth said...

Loring, my memory is very bad about many things, but I know we watched more than one disc. I don't remember that scene, but I know I liked "1900." I wish I had just seen it so I could speak about it with detail.

Ruth said...

rauf, yes, I'm watching the Oscars. So far Slumdog and Benjamin Button are running away with them. ARR just won for music!

Ruth said...

rauf, I'm sorry you didn't see The English Patient in the theater too. The scenes in the desert are breathtaking. And the music surrounds you, making the moments of the film enter you in a more physical way.

If you'd been here in the U.S., I would have seen it 6 times in the theater, because I would have taken you. The movie came out the year Bennett died. The anniversary of his death is Tuesday, rauf.

Peter said...

Vivien Leigh, Ingrid Bergman, Audrey Hepburn, Marie Dressler, Mary Pickford, Norma Shearer, Claudette Colbert, Luise Rainer, Anna Magnani, Simone Signoret, Elisabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Julie Andrews, Julie Christie, Nicole Kidman, Greer Garson, Glenda Jackson, Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, Charlize Theron, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet ...have got the best actress Oscars. Many of them were / are perhaps making an American career, but were / are not US citizens.

Juliette Binoche got only Oscar for best supporting role. Other “foreigners”: Cate Blanchett, Lila Kedrova, Katina Paxinou, Brenda Fricker, Miyoshi Umeki, Anna Paquin, Rita Moreno, Penelope Cruz, Ingrid Bergman, Peggy Ashcroft, Judi Dench, Weny Hiller, Vanessa Redgrave, Margaret Rutherford, Maggie Smith, Tilda Swinton, Rachel Weisz, Catherine Zeta-Jones. So, there were a number before her! (Source Wikipedia)

Ruth said...

Peter, I stand corrected, and how! It must be that the year Marion Cotillard won, or Binoche, there was talk of a large number of non-Americans winning, maybe more than before. I don't know what I heard now! And I will leave the research to you. ;-)

lesleyanne said...

I think about that scene quite often actually. One of the most beautiful in cinematic history.

I also LOVED Kate Winslet's dress, hair and makeup! She looked so natural and gorgeous!

dutchbaby said...

It is such a great scene. He knew exactly what the perfect medicine was. Beauty, the cure for so many ailments.

Thanks for reminding me of this scene.

Ruth said...

Wesrey!

Winslet's dress was beautiful, not the most beautiful IMO of the evening. But her total look, as you said, and how the dress fit her, and her hair and makeup, was parfait!

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby, beauty as the cure. There was a time I thought about developing that idea, beauty as therapy.