“The Painted Veil” is a beautiful movie about the power of anger as shown through a wife and husband who travel to rural china to treat a cholera epidemic. Director John Curran uses beautiful scenery and sets to frame great acting and a well written story based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham.
Kitty, Naomi Watt’s character, lives with her parents who ridicule her to find a husband so they don’t have to care for her anymore. She meets Walter Fane, Edward Norton’s character, at a party that her father hosted. Walter falls madly in love with her and proposes. Kitty explains to Walter honestly, that she does not feel for him the way he feels for her. The pressure of her parents to settle down is disheartening to Kitty. In an act of desperation and nothing else, she agrees to marry him. They marry and move from London to China. When Kitty does something that angers Walter, he makes a radical decision. He decides to move Kitty and himself into a rural region that is having a severe cholera outbreak. In his anger he willfully puts Kitty in danger and purposefully tries to create her discomfort.
The screen play is emotionally engaging, infuriating and sweet but the ending is predictable. Still, I didn’t regret seeing the movie. The relationship between Kitty and Walter is realistically complex. “The Painted Veil” is not a forbidden love story or a struggle to stay together. It’s far more complicated than what we are used to seeing. It is much more about how grown ups fall in love than it is about the idealistic ideas the media usually projects onto love.
“The Painted Veil” will not win any awards for acting but its acting isn’t a complete wash either. All of the characters were convincing but they are missing the intangible something that makes a great film. Norton’s performance feels flat in the beginning, but the complexity of the character later in the movie enlightens why the flatness is relevant and important. The formality of the script didn’t lend itself naturally to Norton’s style and his performance at times feels forced. Watt’s performance suffers the same problem. Her style is no more compatible with the rigid formality in the beginning of the story. Once the story leads the characters away from the British formality the acting becomes far more natural, the birth given talent of both actors free to radiate the sadness and joy of the characters.
The supporting cast is does not suffer from the painfully formality that Edward Norton and Naomi Watt did. Liev Schreiber plays Charlie Townsend, a friend of Kitty’s family. Schreiber’s acting style thrives on formality and seems to flow more naturally into and out of the formal worlds these people run. His performance is aggravating, but purposefully.
Diana Rigg plays the Mother Superior in the orphanage-hospital in the rural town in China. She avoids entirely the super-nun-with-a-ruler mentality most Mother Superiors are portrayed as. At the end of the movie, her explanation of her relationship with god is touching and surprising.
The acting and script are outshined by the amazing Asian setting. Cinematographer Stuart Dryburg, understands how to create an angelic aura over “The Painted Veil.” The natural aspects of the movie are steeped in untouched beauty. Mountains reaching to the sky, covered in brilliant green grass, surrounded by quaint housing and glistening blue waters are create a magical backdrop for this tragic village. The awesome scenery gives more emotional weight to the horrific cholera ugliness.
The music in the movie is absolutely wonderful. Even though the movie is a wonderment to watch, take the time to listen to the music with an active ear.
The movie isn’t entirely angelic; it’s dark and frightening when the doctor sees the cholera or is working with cholera stricken patients. Stuart and Curran don’t go crazy with the darkness though, making sure you can see the illness in its scary natural state. It’s like they wiped the Vaseline off of the lens and shot it with a painfully uncomfortable earnestness.
I enjoyed watching this lovely film. It isn’t a “Best Of” but it isn’t garbage.