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If Fate would have it, I would have the opportunity to go to Tokyo for
this year's Japanese International Film Festival, and watched this as
the closing film. Initially I had mixed this up with Atonement, also
starring Keira Knightley in a period romance story, except that this
one had shades of The Last Samurai thrown in, with the love triangle
moments with the involvement of a Japanese girl.
Based on the novel by Alessandro Baricco, Silk takes its name from the Silk trade, where a French village looks to having its economy hit, if not for Alfred Monlina's Baldabiou who ventures into opening a silk mill and employing the townsfolk. However, in need of untainted silkworm eggs, free from an epidemic striking Europe, he sends overseas one of his staff Herve Joncour (Michael Pitt), whom is indebted to him for arranging his marriage with Knightley's Helene, and off he goes on the arduous journey first to Africa, then to the land of the rising sun, now in the impending stage of internal strife.
The journeys are probably the best bits in the movie, with lush landscapes filling the screen in all serenity of the turmoils that are yet to come. I thought director Francois Girard tried to ape Terence Mallick's direction, with lush natural beauty punctuated with voice over narration of the character's inner-most thoughts. We learn a lot of what's going on in Herve's mind, as he tells us the story of his being, and the conflict he faces when he gets tempted to committing adultery, never forgetting about his tryst overseas when back home he has a lovely wife to go home to.
While the movie has that central conflict that provides the fuel to propel the movie forward, somehow it never gets utilized, having the story and characters dance around on the sidelines of the issue, never to take it head on. This adds to the frustration of watching the deliberations that they have, made worse as the movie chooses to unfold itself extremely slowly, taking too much of its own sweet time. Fans of Keira Knightley would have watched this movie solely to see her performance after the Pirates double bill, but sadly, even though she's given top billing, her screen time is limited, as the spotlight falls on Michael Pitt's Herve and we are told of this story through his eyes.
What adds to the annoyance as well, is that the movie is sans English subtitles. Having it set in France but the characters speaking in English is understandable (after all, Pitt is American and Knightley is English), but having the Japanese speak in their native tongue, and not providing the subtitles, removes a layer that would have provided probably a deeper understanding of the movie. Yes, granted we are supposed to feel the pain of Herve in his inability to connect with the people and the one he loves, but I don't feel that this should be done at the expense of understanding, especially for non-Japanese speaking folks.
However, despite its obvious flaws, the movie redeems itself with a powerful end, packing quite a punch especially when you think it's headed nowhere and probably into mediocrity. Suddenly you discover that things are again not always what they seem, and wonder just who the bigger fool is. But the bottomline, if there's a message to be taken away from this movie, is again never to give in to temptation, and truly treasure your loved ones. Tried and tested, clichéd but true.
This is a beautiful film.
The story stays very close to the book I had already read twice (around 10 years ago then 6 months ago). The adaptation is faithful to the author, and even if there's not much words, the intensity of the feelings is always present. The actors convey these feelings very well, with deep sensitivity and great sensuality (just watch when Hervé is in the Japanese wooden tub, and the girl pours water on his face and lips with her fingers). The settings and sceneries are overwhelming: there's so much beauty-like the snow covered trees in Japan, the Joncour garden, ... François Girard had already shown how a fantastic Director he is with his 2 previous films, and now with Silk! He has such a strong aesthetic sense, and a great way to direct actors...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although the story involves several journeys half way across the globe,
it is nowhere near an epic tale of broad sweep. While the action
(actually bad choice of word) takes place in two places, the
protagonist's home town in France and a village in Japan, the journey
in between is handled with brevity, just something that needs to be
covered but not dwelled on. What we have is a very intimate story of
when happens to the protagonist in these two places, or, to make it
even more intimate, what happened in the MIND of the protagonist. I'll
come back to this.
The plot is actually quite simple. A somewhat undistinguished young man in a small town in 19th century France (English is the proxy language for the movie) falls in love and marries an attractive young woman. At the same time, he becomes, quite unintentionally, a trader commissioned by a silk manufacturer to go to Japan to buy the best quality silk-worm eggs (to ensure that they will not be infected before hedging). Right away, you can see the dramatic elements risks of financial disaster, political intrigues (in Japan), risks if personal safety. While all of these are used in the movie, they are not what the movie is about.
The story, told entirely through voice over of the protagonist Herve, is about an intimate emotional inside his mind. (At the end, we find that there is an actual audience who is, however, quite inconsequential to the story). Except for a livelihood that takes him away for a couple of month each year, there seems nothing lacking in Herve's life. He has grown rich through the trade. His lovely wife Helene is understanding and loving. It is indeed a setback that they have not been able to have any children but they have learned to live with it. But then, the journeys to Japan has given rise to something deeply disturbing, an infatuation with a mysterious young woman that soon turns into an obsession, an obsession to such an extent that it begins to gnaw his soul even when he is back home.
(Additional spoiler warning) Many people have expressed dissatisfaction with the movie's apparent failure to explain many things about this mysterious woman in Japan. But towards the end of the movie, it will gradually dawn on you that this movie have little to do with what happens in Japan, and a lot to do with what happens back home. The one twist close to the end (which can almost be described as a delightful surprise) makes it all too clear. What we are dealing with the whole time is what happens in Herve's mind, and there, the mysterious Japanese woman could very well be a figment of his imagination.
The vote seems unanimous that Michael Pitt who plays Herves is the weakest link. He sleepwalks and murmurs through the movie as if his is playing the main character of Dicken's last, unfinished novel "The mystery of Edwin Drood" (someone who is in an opium hallucination half the time). I appreciate that he is trying to portrayed Herves as imagined by the author (of the book) and screenwriter. But he has not been successful.
The rest of the cast, fortunately, is redeeming. Keira Knightley does not seem too impressive, until towards the end. Then, you begin to see why she was selected for the role Helene, who has more than meets the eyes. Alfred Molina adds more to the role of the trade manufacturer than it would suggest, as he always does with any role he plays. Koji Yakusho, probably the best known Japanese actor today to anyone who follows the Japanese cinema (not Hollywood Japanese), plays the nobleman who trades with Herves. A delightful surprise is seeing Miki Nakatani who played the young woman Hermes in Densha Otoko (Train man) (2005). In "Silk", she is the enchanting Madame Blanche who translates the Japanese letter for Herves.
There are some fine cinematography in Silk, in both the snow-bound Japanese landscape and the hauntingly beautiful forest Herve's hometown.
This movie was very good. I know a lot of reviewers were bored and
didn't like that there wasn't subtitles for the Japanese. Admittedly
the issue with the subtitles would have made the movie easier to
understand. In the middle of the movie there is some confusion about
what exactly has transpired between Pitt and his Japanese contact and
why the initial interlude between Pitt and the Japanese concubine
occurs in the first place but these don't seem to be so dear to the
plot that you can't remain in the dark and still get the point of the
The landscape is breathtaking, the acting was great by every member of the supporting cast. I like Michael Pitt, but it seems like he can only play one character and it's the throaty sensitive guy. I was surprised that Keira Knightley took such a minor role but the punch at the end gives her character quite a bit of intrigue. As always she is wonderful and I liked Alfred Molina as well.
The cinematography was good and understated. The script was simple and it didn't seem like they wasted any words. Quite the opposite in fact.
I understand why others didn't like it but I get the impression that this is due to a lack of patience on their part.
Good movie. Try it out.
This movie will not please everyone, in fact certain people will
probably hate it.
I loved it.
I loved the quiet melodic atmosphere it created.
I loved the narrative voice, which I normally hate.
I loved the many visual wonders, every room it seemed was made to be something more than a mere setting, it was art.
It drew me in, in made me want to visually experience every scene, it itself was a character in the story.
I loved the music, it was gentle and reflective. It also was a character in the story.
The acting was good, solid, and appropriate for the type of story.
The story it self was closed, revealing only what it needed to, provoking emotional reactions where it needed to.
This was not merely a story, not merely a tale to be told, rather it was a meditation for the ears, and for they eyes, wrapped in a story as old as life itself, of love, obsession, and wanting to have what we cannot, and forgetting about what we already have.
I believe this is a film to be watched, but understand it will not be liked by all, for me I am already counting the moments until I watch it again.
Such is the nature of some obsessions...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A trader from Japan arrives in a small English village in the mid-19th
century. He is not particularly handsome or charismatic, he can't even
speak English, but the town leader's vivacious, sultry wife, played by
Keira Knightley, falls in love with the Japanese man and urges him to
take her away. Why? Because any Japanese man who turns up has to be
better than what the British male has to offer. The Japanese man is
haunted by a glimpse he caught of Keira naked, slowly immersing herself
in river water. Finally, he realises it is all an illusion, and that
the woman he truly loves is his recently deceased Japanese wife. His
wife then replaces Keira in his dreams of the river, but decently
You don't buy it, do you? Then why are we expected to swallow it in reverse? This is a lusciously shot, lyrical, understated piece of orientalist claptrap. Michael Pitt takes insipid to new levels, and Sei Ashina has to put up with a credit as 'The Girl,' probably because they couldn't get away with calling her 'Asian Eye Candy.' Not surprisingly, Sei Ashina is a newcomer - no experienced Japanese actress worth her salt would have taken on such a demeaning role. Ashina will forever live down her involvement in this film, I fear.
This should have been a breakout film for the wonderful Miki Nakatani, but she is lost in a stilted role. Koji Yakusho is as forceful as ever, and as such is mis-cast - why would any woman leave this guy, especially for a simpering Eurobrat? The reveal at the end shows, ironically, the film this should have been. The woman wronged, the woman whose love should define this film, is Hélène. The whole thing should have been re-written from her perspective. Hervé's infatuation with a pretty girl he saw on his travels should have been just that, a minor issue in a great love story. Focussing on Hervé's delusional obsession is regrettable. Implying that the Japanese woman had reciprocal feelings is feeble-minded.
In sum, great actors in cinematic locations and a story with bags of potential wasted by mindless Eurocentrics.
I also can understand why a person may not like this movie. However, if you can truly appreciate the goal and the direction of the director's vision than you should like it. The scenery and music added depth and meaning to the story. I think there should have been Japanese subtitles so as to not lose the audience's attention and interest. I was left wanting more. I don't know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. I wanted the plot to be a bit more "spicy". But i can appreciate the director and writer's vision of the movie. This is a good movie to watch when you want to relax and mellow out. The ending was the best part of the movie. There was a bit of a twist which added meaning and understanding. Even though i wanted things to be a bit more spicy the end of the movie justified the lack of it.
In 1862, the son of the mayor of a French village, Hervé Joncour
(Michael Pitt), is invited by the silk entrepreneur Baldabiou (Alfred
Molina) to travel to Africa to bring healthy silkworm eggs for his
factory. Hervé first marries his beloved bride Hélène Joncour (Keira
Knightley) and then he travels in the long journey. He succeeds, makes
fortune and is invited to travel again to trade silkworm eggs in a
longer journey to Japan. He is received by the local baron in a secret
spot and falls in love for his Chinese concubine. Hervé returns to
Hélène, but remains obsessed in the concubine. When he has a chance, he
returns to Japan to trade the eggs and stay with his unattainable love.
"Silk" is an emotionless romance with wonderful cinematography and locations and completely miscast. The expressionless baby face Michael Pitt is an insipid and weak actor and could never have the lead role. I am a great fan of Keira Knightley, but the make-up work is very poor and she does not look aged or ill in the end of the story. The situation exposed in the movie is quite ridiculous: Hervé is just-married and in deep love for Hélène; when he travels to Japan, a concubine only glances at him and touches him in the bath, and that is enough for him to become obsessed by the woman. I can not believe that a successful novel could be so shallow. My vote is six.
Title (Brazil): "Paixão Proibida" ("Forbidden Passion")
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I will not give this film a rating. I don't know how to rate a film
like this. But I feel compelled to write it a comment. It has been
severely misjudged here by many people who are desperately in effort to
make film critics out of themselves.
When I tried to read comments on this film, I saw "Soooo Slowwwwww" and "White Man Saves Asian Women Again". That did not feel so good, but I hope those who love this film or want to know about it read my comment too.
The beauty of this film is not in the advancement of story, or in dialogue, but in visual narration accompanied by very well chosen musical score. If you have read many classic novels written in the good old days, the pattern of story development will not look radically unique to you.
Hervé Joncour is a man living in a remote village in France in middle nineteenth century. People are out of work there, they have not seen much of industry if any at all. Only a small scale revolution could save the village from extinction. And a man with wild but not-too-impractical ideas came to the village one day and things were never the same again for people there. He renovated the silk-mill. But he needed silk eggs entirely untouched by the unknown disease. He sent Hervé first to Africa and then to Japan, away from his sweetheart. Hervé became quite an adventurer and procurer. And then he met "The Girl" in the world of mysticism and snow.
The story that was advancing till now in a pace swifter than anything suddenly became extremely slow developing. The girl's gaze, her eyes, her lips, her breath, her hair lock, her silence, her kneeling pose, her slow turn, way of looking back, the way she bathed, the way she walked, the way she touched, and the wind, the mist, the snow, the sky that lights up before everywhere else, everything became an obsession to him. But he could not speak Japanese. He could not find out if she felt the same for him. Then after one visit, he received a note. He could not ask someone to translate it there, so he had to come back to have it translated later. He found out, it said "Come back, or I shall die."
Silk is not a story that gives you adrenaline rush. It is not really a classic either. The director's orientation was rather one sided. He showed some things in great detail, leaving some things ridiculously out of focus. But he showed perfectly what he wanted to show. The curiosity, the undeniable pull toward the heart of a woman. The little he knew, the bigger became his obsession. They say, a woman's heart is an ocean of mysteries. He was very close to the shore, yet it proved to be too far afterwards.
Would I recommend this film? Hard to say. It is definitely not a feel good film. But yes, it is a work of art. Those who take deep pleasure in relishing cinema, this is for them. But if you are looking for a good time, a nice time, an easy time, and you are renting this one, don't come here afterwards to blame it on the film. Art is made for art's sake. Appreciate it, or don't, but show respect.
Can we really watch a movie lasting almost two hours just for its stunning cinematography and some glimpse of storytelling, or should it rather be the other way around? I think "Silk" proves that it is often impossible to adequately translate a deep, emotionally charged book into a credible and enjoyable movie. Personally, I just got terribly bored less than halfway through the movie. Yes, it is visually compelling. And yes, there are some fine moments in the acting, especially from Alfred Molina. But as a whole this leaves with quite a disappointing feeling in the viewer, the feeling that with all that money and resources and brilliant actors perhaps they could have come up with something a bit different. And a little less slow.
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