The English Patient
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Set before and during World War II, The English Patient is a story of love, fate, misunderstanding and healing. Told in a series of flashbacks, the film can best be explained by unwinding it into its two chronological phases.

In the first phase, set in the late 1930s, the minor Hungarian noble Count Laszlo de Almsy (Fiennes) is co-leader of a Royal Geographical Society archeological and surveying expedition in Egypt and Libya. He and his English partner Madox are at heart academics with limited sophistication in the swirling politics of Europe and North Africa. Shortly after the film begins, both the morale and finances of their expedition are bolstered by an British couple, Geoffrey and Katherine Clifton (Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas) that joins the exploration party. The Count is taken with the gorgeous and refined Katherine. When Geoffrey is often away from the group on other matters, an affair takes wing.

The final months before the wars onset bring an archeological triumph: the Counts discovery of an ancient Saharan cave decorated with swimming figure paintings dating from prehistoric times. This period also sees the romance between Katherine and the Count rise to a sensuous peak and then seemingly fade. Katherine is plagued with the guilt of infidelity, while the Count shows a streak of jealousy along with an imbalance that will later haunt him.

The fall of 1939 and the war bring all excavation at the cave to a halt, and Madox and the Count go their separate ways. Geoffrey Clifton meanwhile has pieced together the outline of the affair, and seeks a sudden and dramatic revenge: crashing his plane, with Katherine aboard, into the Counts desert camp. The wreck kills Geoffrey instantly, seriously injures Katherine, and narrowly misses the Count. He manages to take Katherine into the relative shelter of the swimming figure cave, leaves her with water, a flashlight, and a fire, then begins his scorching three day walk back to Cairo and help. The mood in British-controlled Egypt has shifted since the films start and the dazed and dehydrated Count, with his non-English name, is unable to coherently explain to officials the plane crash and Katherines plight. Instead he loses his temper during questioning and is thrown into military jail. By the time he is able to escape and return to the cave (with German help), his Katherine is dead. And in all but a physical sense, so is the Count.

The films second phase shifts to Italy and the last months of the war. The Count by now is an invalid, having been horribly burned in a plane crash of his own not long after Katherines death. The Count is wholly dependent by this time on morphine and the care of his French-Canadian nurse Hana (Juliette Binoche), detached from her medical unit and established in a battered but beautiful Italian villa.

The villa becomes focal point for more plot threads, some new and some unfinished from the North African phase, all themed around love, fate, and the backdrop of the war. Hana has seen a fianc and a nursing friend die in the Italian campaign, and is left to wonder if her involvement with a British-Indian lieutenant will break her cycle of love and grief or simply continue it. A visitor to the villa named Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe) at first believes he has simply found another source of morphine for his habit, but then realizes the disfigured Count played a role in his own ill-starred time in Egypt and Libya. For Caravaggio unwittingly stumbled into the wreckage of the Count-Katherine-Geoffrey love triangle, circa 1940-42. Hes lost both thumbs in a grisly interrogation at the hands of the Nazis, and has since hunted down and killed those he believes responsible for his fate. He believes the Count was part of a web of spying and intrigue, confronts him with news of Madoxs suicide, and posits that the Count killed the Cliftons. Only a full recounting at the villa of the Cliftons crash and the Counts map dealings with the Germans to recover Katherine bring Caravaggio to understanding and forgiveness. So too does Hana find reconciliation at the films end. Her lieutenant survives a brush with death on the wars last day and her hope in love is restored. Alas, time has run out on the Count; he succumbs to his burns and drifts off into dreams of his Katherine.

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