Adapted from the literary novel by Alessandro Baricco, Silk is a nineteenth-century tale of romance, obsession and silkworm smuggling. Yes, silkworm smuggling. Beginning with an artfully shot oriental woman naked in a hot spring, we then get a bad narration by young Michael Pitt, the hallmark of a difficult translation from book to screen.
However stunningly beautiful as Silk undoubtedly is, it is hard to forget predecessors Manon Des Source, Chocolat and the Stella Artois commercials. Clearly following behind David Lean, Terence Malick and Bertolucci, professional Canadian Francois Girard’s adaptation is a languid, lingering expression of longing that loses huge chunks of the novel, such that almost nothing interesting happens.
Never mind industrial revolutions, the opening up of Imperial Japan and subsequent revolts, drown in the lush score and sink into the epic visual poetry. Or not.
Uncertain narrator Hervé Joncour (Michael Pitt), leaves the military for the silk trade under local magnate Baldabiou, another roguish turn from reliable Alfred Molina. Sent to fetch uninfected silkworm eggs from Japan, Pitt’s ‘difficult’ and perilous journeys are rendered as immaculate travelogues to the Orient.There, he develops an obssession for warlord Hara Jubei’s beautiful Chinese concubine (Sei Ashina), leaving him wallowing in Catholic guilt for betraying wife Hélene (a barely present but still luminous Keira Knightley).
Pitt is frankly a disaster, a photogenic but stolid lead who never ages over the twenty-odd years of the story; his heavily-medicated range consists of blank or teary and his narrated voiceovers sound like a suicide note. It is left to Knightley, Molina and Koji Yakusho as Jubei to inject some life into the painterly visuals, although Ryuichi Sakimoto’s unusually soporific score tries to suck it back out again.
More frock coats and bustles than The New World, Lawrence of Arabia, or Shogun, Silk is an arty distraction while you wait for the silkworms to hatch. RC
Director: François Girard
Writers: François Girard, Michael Golding
Genre: Drama, Romance
Running time: 1 hr. 48 min.
Cast: Keira Knightley, Michael Pitt, Sei Ashina, Koji Yakusho