The Painted VeilApril 21, 2008
Year 2006 / running time 124 minutes / Director: Jonh Curran
Edwuard Norton / Naomi Wats / Live Schreiber / Toby Jones
Plot: Walter Fane is a bacteriologist working in Shanghai. On leave in England he falls in love with Kitty, the daughter of a rich family. Although she does not return his feelings, she agrees to marry him to get away from her mother. In China, to relieve the boredom she starts an affair with the British vice Consul, Charlie Townsend. When Walter discovers her infidelity he decides to punish her and offers her a choice: a divorce with the inevitable public scandal or accompanying him to a remote village where there is an outbreak of cholera. When Charlie shows that he has no intention of leaving his wife, her only option is to go with Walter.
Commentary: The title, a quotation from Shelley, “lift not the painted veil which those who love call life”, refers to the journey of self-discovery made by the two central characters, particularly Kitty. As Norton says, “she is a person who has never really looked at the world outside the narrow confines of herself and her social circle. China blows her vision of the world wide open and forces her to get engaged in things that are bigger than she is”.
The backdrop is the countryside in the south, whit its peculiar hump-backed mountains. There is an ironic contrast between the lush green landscape and the terrible epidemic with its repulsive symptoms. Of course, it is not only the landscape that has been included; the film tells us about the political struggles going on in China at the time and makes a neat job of conveying the fragile balance between tradition and modernity, the struggle against ignorance and reaction , the power of the local warlords and the weight of foreign interference.
Stuart Dryburgh’s cinematography is beautiful, not only as it takes in the gorgeous landscapes but also in its clever lighting of the interiors. Curran’s direction and Nyswaner’s script provide the material the actors need and they take full advantage of it. IV Schreiber is excellent as the smooth-talking Charlie, the classic opportunist who takes what he wants from life and dodges the consequences. Toby Jones is particularly good as the other kind of expat, speaking the language and living with a Chinese woman, the one who really tries to hold everything together. And full credit to the leads, who keep us interested in two not very likeable characters.