The Painted Veil (2006)
The third film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's novel about a marriage between two polar Britons, and how they must deal with each other as well as an unknown culture in 1920s China. What might seem like a conventional period romance, has, in the hands of John Curran and Ron Nyswaner, become an elaborate and profound human drama.
Although Curran stylistically conducts his film in a classical, faithful manner, he shows flair with his atypical narrative rhythm and his uncanny craftsmanship in crucial plot turns. The film shifts in tone more than once, but it does this so delicately that you might not consciously notice it. And that is a key when telling the story of Kitty and Walter, because not even they are completely aware of their own situation, of what they actually feel. Coming from a constrained early 20th century England, they have trouble identifying their own emotions, albeit in completely opposite directions. And as they learn more about each other, they learn more about themselves. There is so much power in the material here, and that power is only elevated by Watts' and Norton's probing, absorbing performances. Curran's clever move here is that he doesn't let us know$ where we have Walter no more than Kitty does.
Even if the story takes place in 1920s China, it has universal and timeless thematics, both on the inter-human level as well as when it comes to its more macro-scale aspect. I like the balance Curran achieves with allowing his characters to be truly products of their own time, but at the same time coming off as relevant, representatives for contemporary interpersonal challenges. And the same largely goes for the plot line concerning the Chinese/Imperial-tension and how the threat of cholera never differentiates.
The Painted Veil is a beautiful and unpretentious film with a simple soul and universal appeal. And the icing on the cake is the compelling score by Alexandre Desplat who is about to establish himself as not only one of the best film scorers of our time, but as one of the most talented classical composers around.