Searching for silkworms, finding love
Silk  (DVD)
Member Name: sunmeilan
Silk  (DVD)
Advantages: Beautifully filmed, gentle story
Disadvantages: Some will find it too slow
In 19th century France, for Herve Joncour, life is going well. He is married to the love of his life, Helene, and a chance assignment to Africa to collect silkworm eggs involves him becoming rich. Then the souce of silkworm eggs becomes diseased and his boss asks him to go 'to the end of the world', or Japan, to source new eggs. Trading in Japan is not easy, but Herve does well and manages to find what he needs from a powerful Japanese lord. All would be well, but Herve becomes obsessed with the Japanese lord's concubine and his relationship with Helene is compromised. After he leaves Japan, he continues to write to the concubine. Will he be able to forget her? Or is his relationship with Helene doomed?
Based on a book by Francois Girard, this 2007 film slipped beneath most people's radar, even though Keira Knightley is in one of the leading roles. It is, perhaps, easy to see why it was so overlooked - it is a truly beautiful film, but the fact that the story revolves around 19th century Japan doesn't make it appealing to a large audience. Then there is the fact that it is an extremely slow story - much of the first part of the film revolves around Herve's travelling and, although picturesque, there isn't very much else to keep the levels of interest up. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating story - the work that went into supplying rich European ladies with silk is incredible - and the gorgeous, often sumptuous, setting is a real visual pleasure. The love affair, for me at least, is a secondary thread to the story.
Herve is played by Michael Pitt. I recognised him from Murder by Numbers, where he played a real creep and he was also in The Village. As a lead character, I wasn't really sure that he was strong enough to carry the film. He just about holds his head above water, but he didn't leave me with any great impression of his acting. Somehow his love scenes with the concubine (we don't find her name) are a bit icky when they should have been romantic. Still, he managed to do what he needed to. Keira Knightley plays Helene, his wife, and spends much of the film looking pretty and is very much in the background. She does have her moments though, so although I am not her biggest fan, I think she was right for the role. And her chemistry with Michael Pitt is much more realistic.
Alfred Molina plays the silk tradesman who sends Herve to Japan. He is a man of great presence and Molina really brings him to life. It is only a small role, but it is one that is worth watching out for, because he really makes his mark on the film. Also good is Koji Yakusho who plays the Japanese lord. There is a real feeling of power that emanates from him and, although he doesn't talk all that much, he manages to portray that he is just as capable of being a friend as he is an enemy. The unnamed concubine, who is played by Sei Ashina is an ideal choice in that she looks beautiful, although we don't really get to know all that much about her.
Director Francois Girard and the production crew have done an absolutely stunning job of choosing the settings and making them look at their very best - and for me, that is what makes the film. I love visually pleasing films and this one is perfect. Filmed in Japan, Italy and, oddly enough, Kidderminster in the UK, the scenery is divine. On his way to Japan, Herve is forced to travel across some horrendous terrain, often in the snow, which is truly beautiful to watch. In France (actually Italy!, or is it Kidderminster?!), the Joncours live in the midst of a forest and it is a real feast for the eyes, especially because of the masses of flowers that Helen plants. I would happily watch the film again with no sound, just to see some of those sights again. The historical aspects of the story were also very well portrayed with some truly beautiful costumes.
One of the criticisms that seem to have been levelled at the film is the fact that Pitt is American, Knightly and Molina are British, and they retain their accents while apparently speaking French. This is marginally silly, when I come to think about it, but for the purposes of the film, I didn't think it mattered all that much. Another criticism is that the Japanese spoken was not subtitled. This, I think, was deliberate though - it was to show how Herve himself, who couldn't understand Japanese, struggled when he was in Japan. I thought this was very effective and not something that really needs to be criticised. I was interested to see that the orchestration was led by Ryuichi Sakamoto, a well-known Japanese musician and composer, probably most famous in the West for his collaboration with David Sylvian and Iggy Pop. The music is beautiful, very Japanese and very unobtrusive.
There is no doubt that this is a ponderously slow film at times. The story is told by Herve, and it is largely a navel-gazing story - his love for two women and the conflict that he feels. Perhaps if Michael Pitt had given a better performance, it would have been a more compelling story. I do think that the ending could have been a little better done. There is a little bit of a twist in the tale, but not one that is going to cause any great excitement, and it does leave the viewer feeling a little flat. Certainly, anyone hoping for some action isn't going to get any here - the only reason I can think that there is a classification of 15 is that there is an occasional glimpse of naked women's breasts and some simulated sex - there is certainly no violence or bad language.
The only extra is a theatrical trailer.
On the whole, I enjoyed the film. It is beautifully made, the historical background is fascinating and the story is intriguing, to a point. It isn't, however, one that many people would want to see in a cinema - I can imagine many people wouldn't make it past the first hour. If, however, you enjoy excellent cinematography and have an interest in the Far East, then this is well worth a watch. Just don't expect the acting from the main characters to be top notch. Three stars out of five.
The DVD is available from play.com for £4.99. My version was from Poundland.
Running time: 104 minutes
Summary: Visually lovely, but story is slow