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February 03, 2011: Review of “Silk”

February 3, 2011

Every once in a while it’s good to review a film that maybe not everyone will like or even appreciate. Such a film is “Silk” (2007) directed by François Girard and starring Michael Pitt as Hervé Joncour and Kiera Knightly as his wife, Hélène.

Set in the 1860’s and starting in Eastern France, the story is of the struggle to get silk production going in France. The French silkworms are dying from a disease and the only option is for someone to go to the orient to obtain a new crop of eggs. Under the direction of the local silk weaver, Baldabiou (Alfred Molina) the town sends the mayor’s son, Hervé, across Europe, through the steeps of Russia and clandestinely into Japan. There, Hervé meets the local daimyo (local samurai leader) and a mysterious girl that he is drawn to. The first trip is a success, but future trips by Hervé are needed, each time leaving Hélène behind, Hervé also faces increasing dangers as a rebellion starts up in Japan. It is clear that for each of these trips, Hervé is falling more and more for “the girl” (he never learns her name.)

Classifying this movie is challenging. Mmmmm…well, take a Merchant/Ivory film, throw in a little sex, OR take “The Last Samurai” and remove every single action sequence and cast the lead as a sort of “anti-Cruise.” One of the films biggest problems is Michael Pitt as the lead Hervé. I don’t ever remember a lead with more of a deadpan, stale delivery. Susie Figgis has cast many a good many leads in her career, and I guess everyone has her off day, but what were you thinking casting Pitt against the likes of Knightly and Alfred Molina. There’s one scene where Molina does more with a cigar and his eyebrows than what Pitt can dig up with his spoken lines!

OK, so one poor choice doesn’t have to ruin the whole film. I haven’t read the book (by  Alessandro Baricco, which I understand is much better than the film…as they usually are) but the story is OK. Again, think Merchant/Ivory. If you like those you probably will like this one. One thing: the film is shot beautifully! The steeps of Russia, Winter in pre-industrial Japan, Summer in the East of France…just gorgeous! I liked the music choices, costumes, the general high production value, and I even appreciated (after a few seconds) the deliberate choice NOT to have subtitles of the Japanese, which made the story more authentic.

So.”Silk.” Not for everyone. A decent rental. Make it a weekend when you have had plenty of sleep and settle in for a slow-moving, but gorgeous film with a few flaws.

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