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By Coury Turczyn

OCTOBER 6, 1997:  True movie romance isn't easy to come by these days. Sure, there are more "romantic comedies" out there than you can spit on, but few of them are coherent entertainment, let alone passionate. Quick, who can remember the plots (or the casts) of: A Smile Like Yours, It Had to Be You, or She's the One? Don't worry—there's no shame in giving up. None of them were worth a damn anyway. And that's possibly why such a hubbub erupted over The English Patient—for all its overdrawn melodrama, it nevertheless delivered the romantic goods in a way no studio pic has managed to do for a long time.

The person responsible for this—even more so than Ralph Fiennes' and Kristin Scott Thomas' arching cheekbones—is writer/director Anthony Minghella. He clearly has a gift for conveying the emotions of doomed romance (as seen in his debut Truly, Madly, Deeply), and with The English Patient, he has taken this theme to epic proportions. Based on the novel by Michael Ondaatje, Patient at first seems like a very fancy Harlequin Romance—mysterious leading man (Count Almasy), beautiful uppercrust leading woman (Katharine Clifton), backdrop of war (WW II), and lots of flashbacks. All that's missing is Fabio on the poster art.

But Minghella imbues Patient with literate dialogue that raises it above the muck of genre conventions—it's kind of like Masterpiece Theatre with sex appeal. That combined with the gorgeous cinematography, Fiennes' and Thomas' world-weary passion, and chirpy Juliette Binoche's romance with the magnetic Naveen Andrews makes for an old-fashioned romantic epic that works. Too bad the ending is so remarkably turgid.

For another dose of tears amid the hugs, try 1991's Truly, Madly, Deeply. You'll probably find it in the comedy section, but laughs aren't exactly in abundance here—maybe "whimsical drama" is a better description. Juliet Stevenson stars as a widow who is so grief-stricken with yearning for her dead husband (Alan Rickman) that he actually comes back as a sort of a ghostly undead personage. While thankful at first, she soon finds the arrangement increasingly irritating—especially when he starts bringing all his dead pals over to watch movies. It's like Ghost drained of all the treacle, a poignant drama of how a woman overcomes devastating loss.

Minghella does have one other movie credit—a piece of Hollywood dross called Mr. Wonderful wherein Matt Dillon tries to marry off his ex-wife even though he still loves her. Wait for it on cable—Minghella may be good, but he ain't that good.

—Coury Turczyn

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