The sudden passing of British filmmaker Anthony Minghella in the early hours of Tuesday morning made me think back on his body of work. Everyone remembers his Oscar-winning adaptation of the Michael Ondaatje novel The English Patient, the tragic love story starring the very chilly Ralph Fiennes and Kristen Scott Thomas and the wonderfully warm Juliette Binoche (who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar) and Naveen Andrews, with Willem Dafoe and Colin Firth in there too. It's an epic and beautiful movie that has inspired films since, especially Atonement from last year. Minghella even cameoed in Atonement, as the interviewer who speaks with the Vanessa Redgrave character towards the end.
All of Minghella's work as a director is worth seeing. That includes the recent Breaking & Entering, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain, but my favourite film of his is his first, Truly Madly Deeply.
It came out in 1990 when I was living in New York City, and was the best movie I saw that summer. The drama begins with Nina (Juliette Stevenson) trying to get over the sudden, unexpected death of her lover Jamie, and becomes something of a comedy in its midsection as, inexplicably, Jamie (Alan Rickman) returns to her apartment in north London. He's clearly a ghost, but one she can touch and interact with, though he has very cold feet. But life does go on, and she starts to understand parts of her life she has to let go, and the film returns to bittersweetness.
Next to The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I can't think of a movie that so understands the place of memory in love, even if it's painful... and the importance of time's passage. Not only does Minghella cannily use London locations to create an authentically wintry urban backdrop to the story, he populates the film with great supporting characters and wonderful cello score. And the element of the supernatural is entirely ignored... it all could be in Nina's mind, after all, as no one else can see Jamie.
My favourite scene is the one where Nina goes to the South Bank of the Thames to meet Mark but cuts their date short, so he insists they hop along the way while telling their life stories. It's hilarious, touching, and shockingly well written and performed.
Minghella brought such touching performances from his actors, a naturalism that shone even in his later, larger works as he was adapting other writers' work to the screen. In Truly Madly Deeply, there's no epic scale to detract from those performances at all, or from his writing, just the small story of a woman going through a difficult change in her life.