Monday, May 26, 2008

The Painted Veil

Strength does not come from physical capacity.
It comes from an indomitable will. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

I watched the film "The Painted Veil" with Edward Norton. Naomi Watts is also good, as is Toby Jones as Waddington and Diana Rigg as a Mother Superior - but next to Norton every other actor in the film pales. The film is equal parts love story and historical period piece - the story of a British newlywed couple in 1920's China. The cinematography is fantastic - the film is very beautiful, with long lush shots of Chinese countryside and moody shots of Shanghai, stark shots of the orphanage/hospital where much of the action takes place. You can feel the heat of the place, the languor of unrelieved heat and humidity and the joy of bathing or swimming in such heat. If you watch it, write me whether you notice anything about the way the color blue is used in the film. The plot has just enough surprise to be satisfying - but the biggest treat for me was rediscovering the character of Walter Fane. He is the stuffy scientist with a core of fire, the accidental hero who drags his wife and himself from Shanghai to an inland China hospital during a cholera epidemic. It is a dark film with moments of sparkle - lighter than the novel, but true to the spirit of Maugham. I read the book when I read a whole lot of dark, quiet novels by W. Somerset Maugham, and this film gives the novel a new relevance, in that the scientist in Walter offers up a new way to view the ways that we "help" countries who wish not to have our help. Fane and the Colonel in charge of the village under siege have an exchange where Fane says "I've not come here to take from your people," and the Colonel replies, "I think China belongs to the Chinese - and we would rather that we could take care of this ourselves."

It's also an interesting take on finding love, on growing up, and on forgiveness and redemption. Plus - sigh! - there is a moment when Walter and his wife are undressing, they have separate bedrooms. They are rooms apart, but through a series of doors can see one another in the half-light of lanterns. She turns to him and drops her dress, and he goes to her with such Norton-esque passion, made more dramatic for the reserve that Fane exhibits much of the time. It's Norton you watch in this film, despite the interest of the director in showing us Naomi Watts - it's his smile we long to see restored, his hope. And the film made me think of the Gandhi quote above - it is a film where the indomitable will of several characters carries them into strength.

I don't want to give away the whole story - but there is one more quote I'll have rattling around my brain for a while. "When love and duty are one, grace is within you." There is much to think of in that sentence. I wonder what Maugham meant by it, and what I would make of's one of those sentences that sounds lovely and rings with truth, but it also is abstract in that in order to really understand it we must agree what "love" is and what "duty" is - and it occurs to me that once we've sorted that out, the quote is obvious and perhaps not so perfect.

Now, I'm off to plant more flowers. Yes, more. Also more Garden Claw action. Whoooot! I have a perennial geranium plant, the variety is Johnson's Blue - it's in stunning bloom, in a quiet way that I quite love. I'll try to take a decent capture a picture of it, I've planted it hugging a rock border, next to a bank of lemon-leafed Lamium plants, in front of some dark green peonies just about to burst into flower. Lovely.

Be well and happy!

~ patti


Anonymous said...

Jeez. Don't you ever just wanna crack open a 12er of PBR and grill some dogs?

Kidding! (mostly) Glad to see you posting again, and that you're up to your ass in dirt and grinning.

Patti Knox said...

Funny thing...that's the third PBR offer/reference I've had in the last month! You mean a 6'er of Sam Adams Light (or Summer Ale) and some chicken??

Thanks for the good thoughts.

~ patti