The Painted Veil (2006)

The Painted Veil“Sold into slavery and a life of drudgery, in a strange land far from home; she weeps for the lively, vivacious girl she once was, the lonely woman she has become, and most of all she weeps for the love she will never feel.”

These are the words, supposedly a translation of the Chinese opera she is watching, spoken to the newly married Kitty Fane (Naomi Watts) by her soon-to-be lover Charles Townsend (Liev Schreiber).

Momentarily we find out that Townsend has no idea if that is the translation, but the words have jolted Kitty because they seemingly have described her.

In a series of flashbacks we see the events leading up to her circumstances:  an overly critical mother who “gave up on Kitty years ago” and asks not so veiled questions such as “How much longer do you expect your father to go on supporting you?”

Humiliated by her mother one too many times, Kitty accepts the proposal of Dr. Walter Fane (Edward Norton) who studies microorganisms that carry disease and works for the British government in Shanghai, China.

Alone together in China, Walter and Kitty discover that they don’t have much in common.  It doesn’t take long for the socially starved Kitty to fall prey to the attentions of Charlie Townsend.  And, it also doesn’t take long for the affair to be discovered by Walter.

Walter approaches Kitty to tell her of his intentions to leave Shanghai to go the village of Mei-tan-fu, which is experiencing the worst of the cholera epidemic.  Kitty asks if he expects her to join him there and when he indicates that he does expect her to accompany him and he knows of her affair, an argument ensues with Kitty proclaiming her love for Townsend and refusing to go.  Walter tells her, that if she does not go, he will file his petition for divorce accusing her of adultery.

Kitty begs Walter to allow her to divorce him quietly.  Walter makes the following compromise:  he will allow her to divorce him with the condition that Dorothy Townsend divorces Charlie, and Charlie promises to marry Kitty.

Kitty is heartbroken and humiliated when Charlie will not go along with Walter’s conditions.  The next day she sets off for the grueling trip to Mei-tan-fu with her cold and angry husband.

Both horrible and extraordinary things happen in Mei-tan-fu.  Kitty is introduced to British Deputy Commissioner Waddington (Toby Jones) and the Mother Superior (Diana Rigg) of the convent/orphanage/hospital.

The Painted Veil provides gorgeous photography and music, and Watts and Norton are wonderful in creating the very believable tones and silences of a strained relationship and do a remarkable job of conveying the gradual rediscovery of one another amidst the death and upheaval caused by the epidemic and the growing tensions between Chinese Communists, Nationalists and warlords.

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