Have you ever watched a movie and noticed that scenes looked familiar but you couldn’t figure out why. That’s what happened to me with The Painted Veil. I saw the beginning, I saw the end, I remembered scenes in the middle, but I could not put it all together. Either it is such an unmemorable movie that I can watch the whole thing and then forget about it so completely that only pieces remain, or I really didn’t watch the whole thing and just caught pieces flipping through the channels during commercials while watching Seinfeld.
This is the third cinema version of Somerset Maughm’s 1925 novel–directed by John Curran, and starring Naomi Watts at Kitty Fane, an English socialite that puts herself into a strange and challenging surroundings in China in the early 20th century. She marries Walter (Edward Norton), a mild-mannered physician and bacteriologist, not because she loves him but because she desperately wants to get out of the house and claws of her mother. She follows him to China. Out of sheer despair and boredom she ends up having extramarital affairs. They eventually end up in a small village that is ravaged by cholera. This is a story of how a bad relationship and marriage can be overcome or at least dealt with when there is some external purpose or challenge that is way more overwhelming.
The best thing about this film is the stunning landscape and scenery in China. This is the kind of movie that makes you think about going there to see those jagged peaks that China seems as famous for as the Great Wall. It’s probably like showing Monument Valley to a European as an example of America. I have never been there and seen it, but I know it’s there. But I am speculating here.
The Painted Veil moves slowly, and in the beginning it is hard to keep going. I wondered if it’s the English stuffiness that I didn’t like, or if it was the movie that simply didn’t keep me going. Perhaps it was both. There was enough spark to keep me from turning it off, so I kept with it, long enough to go to the end, at least the second time – since I remembered the end, too.