Berlin Flashback: In 1997, Juliette Binoche Won a Silver Bear for 'The English Patient'

AP PHOTO/ JAN BAUER
Juliette Binoche (left), Anthony Minghella and Kristin Scott Thomas in Berlin in 1997.

Produced by the Harvey Weinstein-topped Miramax, the film follows a French-Canadian nurse (Binoche) who, in an Italian monastery, cares for a severely burned Englishman who cannot recall his name (Ralph Fiennes).

This year’s Berlin International Film Festival jury forewoman, Juliette Binoche, is a longtime friend of the fest.

Her film The Night Is Young screened in competition in 1987, and The Lovers on the Bridge appeared in the Forum section in 1992. And in 1997, she took home the Silver Bear for best actress for her work in Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient.

The adaptation of the Michael Ondaatje novel was a success in every sense of the word. Produced by the Harvey Weinstein-topped Miramax, it follows a French-Canadian nurse (Binoche) who, in an Italian monastery, cares for a severely burned Englishman who cannot recall his name (Ralph Fiennes).

The movie, which had the scale and romantic sweep of a modern Casablanca, was an enormous critical and financial success, grossing $230 million worldwide ($374 million today) on a $27 million budget ($44 million currently). With Weinstein behind its awards campaign, it won nine of its 12 Academy Award nominations, including best picture, best supporting actress for Binoche and best director for Minghella. (The Berlin jury did not give its directing award to Minghella, however, choosing instead to bestow it upon Eric Heumann for Port Djema, a choice that perhaps does not stand up to the test of time.)

In its review, The Hollywood Reporter said the “elliptically structured” narrative is complex but that Minghella is a “narrative cartographer of the most sophisticated order” and that the film is a “sublime and complex masterwork that will have strong appeal with discriminating audiences.”

The London-born Minghella went on to direct several other notable literary adaptations, including 1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley and 2008’s The Reader. He died in March of that year at 54 after undergoing surgery to remove cancer of the tonsils and neck.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Feb. 8 daily issue at the Berlin Film Festival.