Friday, 21 March 2008

For Anthony

Anthony Minghella, perhaps the most lyrical director of epic-intimate movies since the great David Lean, has died at the age of 54. He was one of my favourite filmmakers.

Turbulent WW2 odyssey The English Patient portrayed tragic romance on a scale unseen since 'Dr. Zhivago' in 1965. Brilliantly played by Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas and Juliette Binoche, the story eschewed generic love-in-harsh-times formula and delved deeper into themes of identity, allegiance and all-consuming passion.

Every frame glows in that film. Minghella was an artist of the first order, a man of great sensitivity, who continually asked questions with his work.

The Talented Mr. Ripley again explored identity and jealousy, and presented a misunderstood central character for whom no country or milieu ever truly fits. Matt Damons's Tom Ripley is a chameleon. Unlike the English Patient, he wants to belong but can't. Social congruity is beyond his grasp. All he can do is pretend, with often tragic results.

No less elegant than his epics, The Talented Mr. Ripley sensitively revealed a true monster. Minghella spices his dark tale with wit and ingenuity, and by the end I found myself rooting for the sociopathic killer.

Cold Mountain is another epic odyssey, this time set during the American Civil War. Like 'Gone With the Wind', it examines the collateral of a war fought on one's home turf. Inman (played by Jude Law) leaves Ada (Nicole Kidman) to fight for her own survival at home, while he in turn is traumatized by combat and goes AWOL. Powers beyond them keep them apart, yet even such a fleeting love gives them the strength to endure...and possibly reunite.

There's a haunting poetry in Cold Mountain. On one level, we've seen it all before - the fight to get home - but Minghella's screenplay constantly addresses what 'home' becomes in a Civil War. Inman meets a young, widowed mother whose house is under siege by marauding troops. Ada's friends suffer under the cruel 'home guard'. It's a desperate story, lyrically told. War has turned everything upside down.

I haven't seen Minghella's debut film Truly, Madly, Deeply or his last one, Breaking and Entering. With just the three films I've mentioned, though, his mark on cinema is guaranteed. He was a poet, a humanist and a generous spirit.

Thank you, Anthony.

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