After she won the Golden Globe and the SAG Award, a win as Best Supporting Actress for Lauren Bacall seemed like the surest thing in Oscar history – but the dominance of The English Patient made it possible for Juliette Binoche to get caught up in its awards sweep and take home the Oscar for her role as Hana, a loving and caring nurse who takes care of a burned man in an abandoned monastery in Italy at the end of World War II. But as you can seem from the position in my ranking – I don’t think that her win can only be explained as part of a sweep. It can only be explained by the fact that she delivered one of the greatest performances this category has ever known.
In the first ten minutes of the movie Juliette Binoche has already more Oscar scenes than other people in a whole movie, when she has to suffer the death of her fiancé and her best friend. Juliette Binoche has one of those beautiful faces that is made for close-ups and the actress’s ability to show so much with her eyes is used to great effect.
Despite her supporting status, Juliette Binoche dominates the ‘present parts’ of The English Patient. She tries to forget her personal pain by easing the pain of her patient, taking care of him, always with a smile, always charming despite grieving inside. In a fantastic scene she breaks down in the kitchen, telling that she is ‘in love with ghosts’.
Juliette Binoche’s warm and likeable appearance turns every scene she is in into something special. When she is reading poetry, saying ‘For the heart is an organ of fire…I love that…I believe that’, it’s a simple scene but Juliette Binoche shines. And when Kip, who is looking for mines, joins the ‘gang’ in the monastery, Hana’s life changes and Juliette Binoche has the chance to shine even more. It’s such a realistic scene when she brings Kip some olive oil for his hair and uses the opportunity to check out his body. And the scene in the church is one big declaration of love to Juliette by Anthony Minghella: the look on her face, the score, the whole atmosphere of the scene are breathtaking.
Later, after they spend the night together, Kip has to take care of a bomb. Hana, full of fear, tells him ‘Don’t go, I’m frightened!’ Juliette Binoche beautifully underlines that Hana is not a complex character, but rather like a child, a little lost and scared. She perfectly plays the simplicity of the part while rising to all the challenges this actually provides for her.
One of my favorite performances ever in my favorite movie ever.