How do you take emotions from the pages of a book and translate them into a movie? Is there a magic formula one can use to perform this change to the joy of the eye, without losing anything from the joy of the soul?
I am of two minds about the movie. There are scenes which follow the book to the letter (remember that plum?) but they are almost devoid of emotion, so much so that without the book they would go unnoticed in the blink of an eye. It must have been quite difficult to rise to the task of changing the words into images. And still, I was pleasantly surprised to see the abandoned villa from my imagination materializing on the screen, those broken steps fixed with books, the rooms deserted, the burned man on the bed.
The characters appear somewhat superficial. The Englishman’s cry when he carries his lover’s body into the desert, or Hana’s lovely but forced smile, and Kips’ words, “I want you to find me”, make them more human.
Juliette Binoche doesn’t seem very suitable for the role of Hana – while she does look deliciously fresh and young, I feel the role called for someone more…melancholic. Caravaggio, played by Willem Dafoe, is but a shadowy presence while Naveen Andrews in the role of Kip manages to just make himself noticeable. Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas, in the roles of the English patient and Katharine succeed in bringing a spark to their roles and into a movie in which the protagonists lack depth.
Without the book, the movie would have less value. Having read the novel, I found watching the movie enhanced the experience, filling the gaps here and there, providing some answers, bringing some sort of closure. One has to pay close attention to details and remember the written words, for in them lies the key to understanding what really happened.
Do I recommend the movie? Yes, but I also recommend reading the book first, because without it the movie lacks substance. Together they make for one complete experience.