Anthony Minghella, man for all cultural seasons, has died of complications from a surgery to remove a tumor. I, and thousands who love his work in film, television and opera, are mourning this tragic, unexpected loss.
It had just been announced that Minghella's pilot based on The Number One Ladies Detective Agency had been picked up by HBO for a new series. Robin Straus, who represents the author Alexander McCall Smith, said that this summer in Africa " when Anthony showed a rough edit of the reunion of the school teacher and his son to the author on the set, we all cried at its beauty, poignancy and humanity." So we do have that to look forward to.
Minghella will certainly be remembered too for his magical production of Madama Butterfly which appeared last year at the Metropolitan Opera and according to Peter Gelb, he was already at work on another collaboration.
And he will certainly be studied and copied for years to come as the creator (along with the book's author, Michael Ondaatje) of one of the most romantic films any of us have seen, The English Patient, , which was feted with many Oscars and awards, and which thrilled us all not only with scenes of great emotion in the desert but also with scenes of passion and longing between Ralph Fiennes and Kristen Scott Thomas, one of the sexiest of which took place in the anteroom of a very public reception. As with Sidney Pollack, (another romantic with whom Minghella eventually formed a partnership) and his film Out of Africa, one is swept away by the both the exotic imagery and the forbidden, bell jar-y nature of the love.
But my all time favorite Minghella confection is Truly, Madly, Deeply, which was released in 1990 and which tells the story of Nina (Juliet Stevenson) the interpreter, and her inability to get over the death of her boyfriend Jamie, (Alan Rickman) the cellist. When his ghost first reappears to her she is overjoyed, but gradually, as he and his other ghost buddies move in with her, watch videos, eat her stuff and generally take over her place, she becomes unglued, unable to form a new attachment to a man who likes her.
I ran out to see this film (it was originally broadcast by the BBC) at lunchtime on its opening day in LA and have since seen it many, many times, studying it for its perfection of character and narrative, wondering how Minghella was able to so cannily get inside the head of a woman.
Nina is a person whose livelihood depends on words so word games and misunderstanding run through the film virally. She isn't beautiful (Stevenson is better known in England) and if it had been made in Hollywood, she never would have been cast. But precisely because she is off-kilter and imperfect and out of sorts much of the time, she feels entirely, completely real, and so her relationship with her dead lover and her matter of fact treatment of his eccentricities also moves from the realm of magical realism into something entirely believable.
Rickman is also possibly in his best role--an acerbic, difficult man who will not be reigned in but whose affection for his ladylove enables him to (eventually, and with much hilarity and misery both) get out of her way.
Nina and Jamie sing and dance too--they aren't mournful with each other--these are people for whom music and literature and film are not strange, remote pastimes to access once in a while but passions--so they are "cultured" in the best sense of the word because to express themselves, they have to sit down at the piano or pick up a cello--it is integral to their versions of themselves.
They are also charming and you will find yourself smiling (as in this You Tube clip) they talk about clouds and try to outwit each other adverbially at saying I love you or harmonizing during The Sun Aint Gonna Shine Anymore. They do things that lovers feel free enough to do with each other (even if one of them is technically already beyond reproach) and which Minghella was genius enough to bring to life.
Minghella's most recent film, Breaking and Entering, also with Ralph Fiennes, was about an architect who was trying to make sense of the disconnect in his own family and in the life of London, not in the spirit world but in the third world, and so it was a tougher swallow, a bleaker view than had been his wont.
But one always felt as if he were challenging people to make romantic love and all of the good things it represents a part of everyday life--to see if longing and desire can coexist with being politically engaged and socially responsible.
The finest memorial we can give to him is to see if we can.