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The Painted Veil DVD
19-Jun-2007 -

The Painted Veil is about the acting, and Watts and Norton have rarely been better.

Warner Bros Home Video has released on DVD The Painted Veil. It is a love story set in the 1920s that tells the story of a young English couple, Walter, a middle class doctor and Kitty, an upper-class woman, who get married for the wrong reasons and relocate to Shanghai, where she falls in love with someone else. When he uncovers her infidelity, in an act of vengeance, he accepts a job in a remote village in China ravaged by a deadly epidemic, and takes her along. Their journey brings meaning to their relationship and gives them purpose in one of the most remote and beautiful places on earth.

Produced by Edward Norton and Naomi Watts, The Painted Veil works well as a movie--even better as an actor's showcase. The year is 1925. When her domineering mother pressures her to marry, Kitty (Watts) settles for shy bacteriologist Walter (Norton). Then Walter is transferred from London to Shanghai and the lonely and bored Kitty drifts into an affair with married diplomat Charlie (Liev Schreiber). When Walter finds out, he makes a startling proposition: either Kitty accompanies him to the cholera-infested countryside or he'll divorce her. With no other prospects, she comes along on what looks like a double-suicide mission.

Based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil was adapted by Philadelphia's Ron Nyswaner (who knows a little something about infectious diseases). As two previous versions made little impact--despite Garbo's presence in the 1934 melodrama--John Curran's film is sure to stand as definitive. Interestingly, Norton, who studied Chinese history at Yale, chose Watts as his co-star, while Watts chose Curran, for whom she appeared in 2004's underrated We Don't Live Here Anymore. Filmed on location, the handsome production is, in many respects, just as old-fashioned as its source material--sex is merely suggested and Kitty is shocked that their English neighbor (Toby Jones) has a Chinese lover--but the ending packs a feminist twist. Mostly though, The Painted Veil is about the acting, and Watts and Norton, along with Diana Rigg as a disillusioned Mother Superior, have rarely been better.

Alexandre Desplat's music.
While this soundtrack is very solid overall, it's also rather subdued and perhaps not as immediately likable as composer Alexandre Desplat's previous offerings (most notably The Queen and Syriana), so it could disappoint fans of the immensely gifted Frenchman. But a certain old-fashioned charm does operate after a while, which, after all, is exactly what you'd expect of the music for a movie based on a Somerset Maugham novel. Desplat set out to evoke 1920s romanticism with a series of brief vignettes, usually greatly enhanced by the sensitive playing of pianist Lang Lang. And considering that most of the movie takes place in China, Desplat has refrained from easy orientalism: "Walter's Mission" is one of the few tracks to allude to Asian sounds. The only non-original tracks on the CD is Erik Satie's well-known "Gnossienne No. 1," a slow piece that evidently served as inspiration for Desplat's own "River Waltz." But who's complaining? There are worse people to emulate than Satie.

Buy the DVD from The CD is available here.

Released by Warner Bros Home Video.

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