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Silk (2007)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Inscrutable And Insufferable"
1 stars

“Silk” is a sweeping romantic drama that is lacking only sweep, romance, drama or anything remotely resembling a point. It is based on a novel by Alessandro Baricco that was, I learn, an internationally beloved best-seller when it was released in 1997–I’ve never read the book but based on the evidence of this adaptation, great harm has either been done to the book or to the good name of internationally beloved best-sellers. Painfully miscast and dull as dirt from start to finish, this may be the most stultifying adaptation of a book to hit the screen since “Memoirs of a Geisha” and even that film at least had the advantage of being a good-looking bore–by comparison, this seems more like a refugee from one of those drab cable channels that you habitually skip over in order to get to the good stuff.

Set in a small French town in 1862, the film stars Michael Pitt as Herve Joncour, an ambitious young man who, as the story kicks off, returns from the war, meets and marries winsome schoolteacher Helene (Keira Knightley) and goes to work for Baldabiou (Alfred Molina), an ambitious and older entrepreneur who has revitalized the town by reopening the silk mill. Before long, however, the local silkworm eggs are infected with disease and Herve is sent off to Egypt to acquire some fresh eggs so that the factory and the town don’t go under. When that lengthy and arduous journey doesn’t pan out, Baldabiou sends him on an even more lengthy and arduous journey to the mysterious and insular land of Japan, where he will be smuggled into a small village (as the country did not allow trade with other countries at the time) in the hopes of acquiring the worms. Eventually he arrives and while he does manage to acquire the worms from the village leader (Koji Yakusho), he hardly notices because he finds himself instantly besotted by the man’s beautiful concubine (Sei Ashina).

When Herve returns to France with the eggs, they are perfect and he soon becomes a very wealthy man from his share of the proceeds. On a material level, he would seem to have everything a young Frenchman could possibly want (outside of a convincing French accent) but Herve remains dissatisfied. For starters, despite their best efforts, he and Helene are unable to have a child. More importantly, he is unable to shake his memories of the girl back in Japan and when another trip for more worms is required, he eagerly sets off once again. When he arrives, he once again meets up with the girl and this time around, they manage to sleep together once before he returns to Europe. This encounter only further fuels his obsession, especially when he receives a note written in Japanese that reads “Come back, or I shall die,” and the rest of the film centers on his maddening desire to return to the woman he truly loves, his attempts to make a life with the woman he married, a couple of shocking betrayals, another foolhardy trip back to the village (which has now been ransacked by rebels), a mysterious illness and the kind of last-minute revelation that will have even those with a taste for soap opera histrionics rolling their eyes in sheer incredulity.

There are so many things wrong with “Silk” that I hardly know where to start in recounting them. For starters, thanks to the way that the film blithely skips over seemingly key events (such as the details of Herve’s journeys to Egypt and Japan), you always get the sense that huge chunks of the story were filmed by director Francois Girard (who also made the incomparably better films “Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould” and “The Red Violin”) and then left on the cutting room with the resulting narrative holes being papered over with the uninspired and always-present narration. That said, I don’t want to suggest that a longer version would have been better because as it plays now, the story moves at such a sluggish pace that even though it only runs about two hours, it feels at least twice as long. There is no sense of awe or intrigue in the way that our hero regards his visits to the mysterious and unknown world of Japan, unless you regard “dull surprise” as an adequate manner of registering awe and intrigue. Most fatally, there is the simple and undeniable fact that there is absolutely no demonstrable chemistry between Herve and the concubine–they demonstrate all the raw passion and desire of a couple of seventh-graders in a school play and since you don’t believe that they have any kind of connection–spiritual, emotional or physical–Herve’s subsequent obsession with her comes across as especially difficult to swallow.

Of course, most of the blame for this utter lack of chemistry can be attributed to the fact that Michael Pitt, as Herve, turns in one of the most somnambulistic performances in recent memory. This is a character who should be initially bursting with energy and high spirits and later be utterly consumed with his desire for a woman that he can only and respond to in the most primal manner possible. However, Pitt spends the entire movie as if he is in a daze that he can’t snap out of–he comes across as less lovestruck and more like a sullen teen brought low by an especially virulent case of mono.. It is almost exactly the same performance that he gave in Gus Van Sant’s “Last Days” where, you will recall, he was playing a zonked-out faux-Kurt Cobain during the last couple of days of his life–not exactly the kind of attitude you want from the hero of your sweeping romantic epic.

As for Keira Knightley, whose presence is presumably the reason why “Silk” is getting even a token theatrical release, she tries her best–she even offers up an American accent in order to better match up with Pitt’s mumblings–but she is hampered by a character who exists only to do three things throughout the story–she wishes her beloved goodbye when he sets of on another journey, she welcomes him home when he returns from said journeys and she takes off her clothes whenever the audience needs to be jolted back into semi-consciousness. (Okay, she winds up doing a couple of other things but to explain them would lead us into spoiler territory.) Granted, she does all these things reasonably well, especially the latter, but I have no idea why an actress of her current stature would deign to waste her time and talent on such a profoundly uninteresting role in such a profoundly uninteresting film as this

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16382&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/14/07 00:32:10
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/09/09 Anonymous. michael pitt was good in delirious, funny games, etc. but in a period piece? no! 2 stars
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  DVD: 26-Feb-2008



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