In 1997, I was going through hell – The man I was in love with was going to marry someone else and the job I loved had just disappeared. "The English Patient," the film directed by Anthony Minghella – from the novel by Michael Ondaatje – and that had opened a year earlier -- was the only place -- in its exploration of devastating loss and epic love – that I felt I could live.
The hurt in Almasy’s eyes, conveyed by the incomparable Ralph Fiennes; the damaged nurse Hanna, played by Juliette Binoche, and all the other lost and searching souls caught up on the cusp of history in pre-war World II Cairo – and then in a villa somewhere in Tuscany just before the war ended caught my imagination and heart as no movie has done since.
Living in the aftermath of my own broken love affair, I found myself going to the film over and over.. I knew every line before each actor uttered it. I would quote them for all my friends – who of course did not share my passion for the film.
“Betrayals in war are nothing compared with Betrayals in peace… New lovers are nervous and tender smash everything - for the heart is an organ of fire…” the Hungarian explorer Almasy wrote on the wrapping of a Christmas firecracker before a passionate rendezvous with Catherine Clifton, the woman with whom he was having an adulterous affair – and who would eventually broke his heart.
I watched it over and over – even at home – for many years. One day, I even met Ralph Fiennes on the street – who didn’t seem at all tortured and was very sweet – even when I told him of my obsessive devotion to the film.
And life moved on. All that loss I had felt somehow became absorbed into the fabric of my life – I got another job – many other jobs – met many other men – though none have equaled yet that Grand Passion. And one day recently – I put on "The English Patient. " And I just couldn’t finish it . It just seemed impossibly sad.
I didn't live there anymore.