The story of a married silkworm merchant-turned-smuggler in 19th century France traveling to Japan for his town's supply of silkworms after a disease wipes out their African supply. During his stay in Japan, he becomes obsessed with the concubine of a local baron.
A married silkworm smuggler, Herve Joncour, in 19th Century France who travels to Japan to collect his clandestine cargo. While there he spots a beautiful Japanese woman, the concubine of a local baron, with whom he becomes obsessed. Without speaking the same language, they communicate through letters until war intervenes. Their unrequited love persists however, and Herve's wife Helene begins to suspect. Written by
Steaming water. Strange trees. Laughing children. Her skin... those eyes. But why should I tell you about it? Why now? Maybe I just need to tell someone about it. And that someone is you.
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For those who fell under the spell of Alessandro Baricco's novel SILK, a meditation about love, desire, and conflict, this cinematic transformation adapted as a screenplay and directed by François Girard will not disappoint: reservations about making Baricco's poetry visual are for the most part put to rest. The resulting film, SILK, is supported by a sensitive cast, wondrous cinematography by Alain Dostie, a haunting musical score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, and is an appropriate extension of the beauty of Baricco's short novel.
Set in France in 1862, Hervé Joncour (Michael Pitt) is following his family tradition of military duty until a somewhat mysterious man named Baldabiou (Alfred Molina) approaches Hervé's father Mayor Joncour (Kenneth Welsh) with an idea to increase the tiny French town's revenues by capitalizing on the manufacture of silk. He talks the town council into fortifying his project and in a short time Baldabiou has several silk mills running. A problem arises when an infection attacks the silkworm eggs and threatens to destroy the business. Baldabiou convinces Hervé to travel to Africa to buy silkworm eggs to solve the dwindling supply. Hervé, meanwhile, has met and fallen in love with the beautiful Hélène (Keira Knightley) who is loving enough to encourage Hervé's travel to Africa for the eggs, a trip Hervé makes and returns with eggs that make the town's mills thrive, allowing the prospering relationship between Hervé and Hélène to result in marriage and hopes for a happy future.
The eggs are again attacked by disease and this time Baldabiou sends Hervé to Japan where the perfect eggs can be smuggled out of the country: the trip is arduous, long (through Europe, Russia, China to Japan), and while Hervé succeeds in securing the precious eggs, he also loses his heart to the seductive eyes of the baron's concubine (Sei Ashina). Upon returning home the town prospers, Hervé and Hélène try to have children, but Hervé is again forced to travel to Japan for more eggs - and to fulfill the longing to see the concubine again. Japan is now at war and the trip is far more harrowing than before and while Hervé doesn't satisfy his desire for the concubine, she gives him a note in Japanese as he departs for France. Upon returning to France, Hervé has the note translated: 'Come back or I shall die'. His love for Hélène remains strong and he shares the experience he had in Japan. A letter is delivered to Hervé, a beautiful love letter, and it is at this point that Hélène becomes ill and the events that transpire bring life to the real meaning of love in an unexpected way.
There are problems with the film: the Japanese conversations are not translated by subtitles (perhaps the director wants us to feel the alienation of a Frenchman in a strange land) making the viewer feel that chunks of the story are missing; the emphasis of the film is more concentrated on the beauty of the various locales than on the character development; Michael Pitt is a fine actor but the inner conflicts of his character are not explored well. But these flaws are minor when the scope of the film is viewed in full. It is a beautiful work and one that will satisfy the readers of the novel from which it was adapted. Grady Harp
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