February 14, 2010

Love in a Time of Cholera

The Painted Veil might be an unlikely candidate for people's all time favorite romantic films, but it surely is on my list. This tale of imperfect and seemingly unkind partners is a compelling look into human nature and relationships.

Kitty (Naomi Watts) is a self-indulgent socialite from 1920s London who, in a bid to get away from her parents, impulsively marries Walter Fane (Edward Norton), a stodgy bacteriologist. They move to Shanghai, where the bored wife has an affair with the superficial Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber). To punish her for her indiscretions, Walter volunteers to work at a far-flung cholera-ravaged Chinese village. As if an epidemic wasn't bad enough, the Nationalist movement is alive and well. Animosity towards Westerners is even higher. Colonel Yu (Anthony Wong) is on hand to keep the peace.

Shallow Mrs. Fane gets a reality check when she sees death and disease first-hand, and finds her purpose when she starts going to an orphanage run by Mother Superior (Diana Rigg). Waddington (Toby Jones) is a world-weary British expatriate who befriends the miserable couple. As the good doctor carries on his work for the village, his clinical detachment crumbles, along with his contempt for his spouse. It is a backwards love story. The husband and wife get to know each other, and despite their vast differences, learn to respect, love and ultimately forgive each other.

The screenplay gives us an honest view of how painful love can be. The performances are extraordinary, given that the characters are flawed and initially unlikable. Mr. Norton gives a sensitive, subtle portrayal of a man whose cruelty comes from a place of pain. Ms. Watts makes us hate and love her, so her atonement is even more stunning and meaningful. The scenery is spectacular and beautifully photographed. It is China at her most exquisite and resplendent. The movie is perfectly paced, quiet and unsentimental. I love it because it is unromantic and truthful.

Happy Valentine's Day to all our readers!

(photo from about.com)


Pinky said...

Nice title! I love this movie!

Jon said...

i love this movie ta lani.

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