Silk (Canada/France/United Kingdom/Italy/Japan, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

By any standards, Silk is a bad movie: pretentious, stillborn, devoid of emotion. It’s a perfect example of how awful direction and performances can ruin an adequate screenplay. Granted, what’s on paper isn’t perfect and it contains a number of ripe lines of dialogue, but the way it is butchered by director François Girard is shocking. There’s very little that this movie does right; it’s hard to believe it came from the man who directed two acclaimed motion pictures (Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould, The Red Violin).

Based on the novel by Alessandro Baricco, Silk introduces Herve Joncour (Michael Pitt), a young man who takes a commission to buy silkworm eggs from Japan so the local silk mill owner (Alfred Molina) can stay in business. As a side benefit, this will also allow Herve to marry his one true love, Helene (Kiera Knightley). It’s 1862 and travel to the Orient is not an easy thing to accomplish. Eventually, Herve arrives in Japan and makes the deal. While there, he spies a beautiful Japanese concubine (Sei Ashina) who becomes an obsession even once he has returned to France. In fact, she has such a forceful grip on his thoughts that he jumps at a chance to return to Japan and see her again.

Stories about sexual obsession can be powerful when developed and presented effectively. Execution is the problem with Silk. The choice of Michael Pitt to play Herve is the first of numerous errors. Pitt staggers through the film doing a passable impression of a deer caught in headlights. His delivery of lines is amateurish, he shows nothing in the way of emotional range, and his voiceover narration is delivered in a monologue. Any chance of character identification is killed as a result of Pitt’s portrayal. Supporting work by Keira Knightley (having surprisingly little to do for one billed so highly) and Alfred Molina is insufficient to elevate the movie to a watchable level.

The film is handsomely photographed, but even the images lack power. Scenes with the concubine dripping water on Herve are supposed to be suggestive; instead, they’re about as erotic as a wet noodle. Much of the narrative seems comprised of shots of Herve traveling back and forth from France to Japan. There are impressive snowscapes, but this kind of monotony is not conducive to keeping audiences involved. Added to that is a maddeningly repetitive piano score that fills up all the dead space in the soundtrack when there's no dialogue - by the end of the film, I wanted to take Truffaut’s advice and shoot the piano player.

Silk may or may not arrive in a theater near you, depending on what distribution choices Picturehouse makes regarding it. One suspects they know they have a dog on their hands. My advice is that, even given a choice, you avoid Silk. Despite the title, it’s rougher than burlap and twice as uncomfortable.

Silk (Canada/France/United Kingdom/Italy/Japan, 2007)

Run Time: 1:52
U.S. Release Date: 2007-09-14
MPAA Rating: "R" (Nudity, Sexual Situations)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1