The Painted Veil
Dir. John Curran. 2006. PG-13. 125mins. Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber, Toby Jones, Diana Rigg.
This screen adaptation of one of W. Somerset Maugham’s lesser novels follows a couple that falls out of love and snipes at each other against the exotic backdrop of a remote Chinese village. It’s the kind of film that earns the adjective tasteful, for better or for worse.
In post-WWI Britain, spoiled, petulant Kitty (Watts, looking eerily like a young Nicole Kidman) escapes her awful mother by marrying the tightly wound Walter Fane (Norton, wrestling with a British accent), a doctor who specializes in clinical epidemiology who is clearly besotted with her. Walter gets a government posting in China, and poor bored Kitty quickly gets busy doing the horizontal boogie with a local lothario (Schrieber, so oily we should be setting up drilling platforms on him). Walter finds out and turns cruel, forcing Kitty to accompany him to a remote, cholera-plagued village, seemingly in the hope that they will die. That’s one way to end your failing marriage. The two spend some time suffering, but finally discover that they love each other even as fate plays one last trick.
Norton and Watts are quite good at conveying unspoken misery, which is the dominant mood for much of the film. Jones has some fun as a dissipated British official who has, as they say, gone native. And Rigg does a borderline-camp turn as a nun who helps Kitty find some redemption. It’s all quite beautiful and intermittently moving—and very, very tasteful. (Opens Fri; see www.timeout.com/chicago/nowplaying for showtimes.)—Hank Sartin