When rearranging my DVDs the other day, I came across one of my favourite films ever and just couldn’t resist sharing it with you. It might not be one of those classic films that you instantly think of with stars like Audrey Hepburn or Humphrey Bogart, it might not be a massive blockbuster with fast cars and barely clothed women. But The Painted Veil is a story of the journey from indifference to real pain, heartache and suffering, and eventually rediscovering love against the backdrop of a remote village in China that is overrun with cholera.
This is the third film adaptation from a novel written in 1925, with other films made of the story in 1934 and 1957, all on the topic of adultery. This version of the film both starred and was produced by two of my favourite actors – Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. The pair are both incredibly talented and just seem to have a certain way of portraying emotions while seeming to hold everything back – incredibly British despite both learning their craft in America and Australia. They just approach their films in such a different way to other actors I have watched, by playing the character gingerly rather than full-on. This is something that works so well with the story of two people who have both failed each other and are unsure of how to progress.
It’s very much a story about people getting beyond the worst in themselves and figuring out how to look at each other honestly, forgive each other for their failings and get to a better place… When I read it, I was very affected by it because in it I saw my own failings. Edward Norton
I love the relationship between the couple, which while appearing broken and fragmented, soon grows into more than the pair could have dreamed of when first setting out on their journey. It is far more raw and real than that of all those silly romantic comedies (don’t get me wrong – I love a Rachel McAdams movie, but sometimes we need a dose of real life as well!). The story is an honest tale of a woman who uses a man as her escape but soon realises he is not enough. She looks elsewhere to fill the gaps in their relationship but this forces them further apart. When the world around them, a cholera outbreak, forces them to muck in and to look at each other differently, they start to heal both themselves and each other. It is a story of forgiveness and of rediscovering the beauty in another where previously you only felt despair. Watch here as Edward Norton discusses the characters in the film.
I went on the assumption that if you were willing to allow Walter and Kitty to grow… you had the potential for a love story that was both tragic and meaningful. Edward Norton
This film is always one that brings a tear to my eye, the love story is just such a devastatingly realistic portrayal of so many relationships that it can’t help but touch you, whether you are in a relationship or not. But the part that I love the most has to be the incredibly beautiful scenery. Most of the movie was filmed in an untouched area of Chinese land in Huang Yao and in Guilin, Guangxi, with other sections in Shanghai. The landscape is utterly breathtaking and genuinely makes it look like the actors have gone back in time – combined with the pair’s awkward style of acting it really does feel like the film captures the complex relationships of the time against a powerful backdrop.
I absolutely love this film but I’m not 100% sure why – it might be the scenery or the story, or it might be the acting. But it might just be the fact that I finally found a film in which the characters truly fucked up and lived with the problem, that they fixed the problem and made it out the other side. So refreshing in a world of disposable relationships.
What’s your favourite film and why?