Silk (review)

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Obsession. Passion. Romance. This beautiful-looking but torturously dull film — based on the bestselling novel by Alessandro Baricco — insists it has much to say about some of the most treacherous of human emotions, but it never generates any genuine heat or light, desperate though it tries. When a former soldier (Michael Pitt: The Village) in 1860s France accepts the task of traveling to remote, secret Japan to acquire silkworms for a local merchant (Alfred Molina: As You Like It), he falls in love not only with the alien culture but with the concubine (Sei Ashina) of the Japanese warlord (Kôji Yakusho: Memoirs of a Geisha) he contracts with. Oh, the soldier has a delightful wife (Keira Knightley: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End) back at home, and it’s not like he ever even speaks to the concubine — he certainly never actually touches her, not the possession of so powerful a man as the warlord — but still: he burns for her. And she for him. And he burns for his wife. And she for him, too. If everyone is burning with such a fervor, why can’t we feel it? Director and screenwriter François Girard’s last film was 1998’s exquisite The Red Violin, but he lets this one get bogged down in its own weighty self-importance, which is a real pity, because the performances are superb. Yet the supposedly doomed romance feels like a wisp of passing nothingness, because the ardent visual metaphors meant to convey the intensity and the passion is best described as soporific… a lovely word for “something that puts you to sleep.” Silk is lovely too, in precisely the same way.

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