Rome Film Fest: Ralph Fiennes Pays Tribute to Late 'English Patient' Director at Anniversary Screening

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Paul Zaentz, Kristin Scott Thomas, Juliette Binoche, Ralph Fiennes and Julian Wadham

Juliette Binoche, who said she was well-prepared with a purse full of tissues, dedicated the screening to Anthony Minghella's widow, Carolyn Choa.

Actors Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Kristin Scott Thomas and Julian Wadham and producer Paul Zaentz gathered in Rome for the 20th anniversary of their film The English Patient.

The mood at the anniversary was somber as the cast dedicated the film to the late director, Anthony Minghella, who passed in 2008 from a hemorrhage. Binoche, announcing she was well-prepared with a purse full of tissues, dedicated the screening to Minghella's widow, Carolyn Choa, who was visibly moved by the event. 

Zaentz also asked the dozens of Italian crew members in the audience who had worked on the film to stand up, as Minghella would have wanted them also to receive recognition on the historic night. 

The English Patient, a tragic romance set against the backdrop of WWII, won an astonishing nine Academy Awards in 1997, including best picture, best director and best supporting actress.

Fiennes, who has now directed two films himself, reminisced on being greatly influenced by Minghella on his own sets, through the director's patience, sense of humor and his collaborative spirit. “I remembered the way that he nurtured the skills of all his heads of department, and wanted their input and wanted their artistry and wanted the gift that they brought,” he said.

“Anthony engendered this unique spirit of collaboration, and every single person working on this film, and of course his other films, felt that their contribution to the film had real value,” Fiennes said. “That they were not just there to feed into the director’s vision, they were part of the vision, they helped to make the vision. And he made people feel the value of their work.”

“He created this extraordinary atmosphere,” continued the actor, who was also nominated for an Oscar on the film. “And I think it’s because of this bigness of heart, that he had as a human being and as an artist. I feel sure that’s why we are here.”

Producer Zaentz also praised the Italian crew at Cinecitta that worked on the film in helping it overcome its many financial troubles. Made for $33 million, the film went on to gross $231.98 million globally. “At one point, a representative of the crew in public preproduction came to me and said, ‘Please, if you can tell us there is a 50 percent chance that this movie will work, will happen, we will work the next two weeks without getting paid, as long as you tell us what we will be paid in the future, because we want to make this movie. We love this script.’”

“And the management at Cinecitta let us stay there for three months, using the sets, building the sets, without paying our bills because they trusted us that eventually they would get paid,” Zaentz recalled. “It was just such a wonderful experience.”

Zaentz also spoke on working with the Weinsteins, who scored Miramax’s first best Oscar win on the picture. “The Weinsteins didn’t really have any artistic input into the film,” Zaentz said. They got involved when the script was finished, when it was cast, they left us alone in the editing process. I think Harvey realized with Anthony and Saul [Zaentz] and Walter Murch that the film was in the best capable hands. But they did a hell of a job marketing and promoting it.”

Fiennes again credited Minghella for the film’s extraordinary success. “I remember reading an early draft, but a strong draft, and I think Anthony just tapped some extraordinary emotion, in a story of the past, and a story of the war and a story of loss and regret,” Fiennes said. “And with great intelligence and extraordinary sensitivity, he did that thing which the great love stories on film do — they just make it universal. And I remember being moved to tears by all these elements, [even] before we were making it.”

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