15 Oct 2013: The Painted Veil (DVD, 2006, John Curran)
Like W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge this story tells of an idealistic young white upper-class man and an (at least eventually) admiring woman who meet at a ritzy dinner party and subsequently undergo relational vicissitudes as the man globetrots to the East before a tragic death occurs. This film is pretty in a now-standard sort of Hollywood period way, with immaculately executed crane shots that reveal landscapes and lighting setups that broadcast emotional turmoil, just as the story is heartwarming in similar fashion by hitting the proper notes of rediscovered love, self-sacrifice and helping the less fortunate, but on both counts palatability and craft disguise, but anyway signify, banality and blandness. To accentuate the nobility and daring of the wealthier white characters, the Chinese which surround them on their journey are essentially made a faceless mass of victims and aggressors, with a couple of speaking roles included only to further exalt the morality of their white masters. This has a cheapening effect on the couple’s (as they now say) first-world problems of frigidity and noncommunication, since a deadly cholera epidemic affecting a large populace is made a mere backdrop and pivot for the two leads’ rapprochement. Like so many modestly budgeted films these days, it features a technical perfection of style that makes the approach to the material eerily hollow: the very fact of precise satisfaction fosters an interpretive boredom with familiar sensory data in a way that the original experimentations of a Fassbinder – often occasioning confusion, or at least a rethinking of common framings – do not.