Movie review: “Silk”

When the credits finally rolled at the end of this movie, all of us (including Tuffy the Cat who had fallen asleep between us) agreed that Silk was probably the most ponderously slow-moving movie that we had ever seen.

Briefly, the plot is the following: A young French soldier, Herve Joncour, returns to his village on leave. His father is the mayor of said village. He meets a beautiful young woman, Helene, with whom he falls in love. A silk merchant decides that he wants to re-open an abandoned silk mill in the village, and asks Herve (who has in the meantime married Helene) to travel across Europe and Russia to Japan, where he must buy a couple of crates of silkworm eggs from an isolated village high in the mountains. There Herve makes a deal with the local headman (how, I don’t know, as he doesn’t speak Japanese) , whose beautiful and mysterious concubine captures his attention. Herve returns to France, the silk merchant is happy with the eggs, and all goes well in the village where everyone now has work. Of course things don’t stay like that, but I don’t want to spoil the story if you do want to sit through it.

On the plus side, all the sets and costumes are lovingly designed and beautifully filmed. There are long, lovingly lingering panoramic views of the varied landscapes across which he travels – the steppes of Russia, the rivers of the coastal islands, and the snow-capped mountain peaks of Japan. And the camera sensuously caresses the steaming hot natural pools next to the Japanese mountain village, where the locals like to bathe, particularly during the freezing cold winter.

And yet…

The main protagonist Herve Joncour is played by Michael Pitt (alas, not a younger brother of Brad). I don’t know what he had been smoking or what medication he was on during filming, but for about 80% of the movie, he wanders around like a zombie in a trance, barely managing to mumble and mutter a few inarticulate words. Perhaps the challenge of also doing the voice-over narration had exhausted his daily stock of vocabulary (you know, that idea that women have 10,000 words a day whereas men have 1,000 or something).

Not only that, but the emotions expressed were definitely closer to the depressed end of the spectrum, somewhere between deep, wordless sorrow and a mild sort of tranquil, similarly wordless happiness. Actually, no, happiness is just too cheerful a word. Inner peace or tranquility are also just too strongly emotional. Perhaps one could say it was apathy with just a smidgeon of contentment?

To his credit, though, he did achieve completely mastery of the brooding, melancholic, world-weary traveller look.

We found ourselves getting so irritated by this, that when he said something like “I am happy” (in a depressed-sounded monotone) we packed up laughing hysterically.

Not even gorgeous Keira Knightley, playing his long-suffering and incomprehensibly patient wife Helene, could save the movie from ‘the pits’ (I know, this is a terrible pun). 

Surely any man who has the extraordinary good fortune to be married to voluptuous Keira, or in this case Helene, wrapped in soft flowing robes, her dark locks gently cascading down her back, and with that delightfully naughty laugh and those sparkling eyes, would be ecstatic with joy? And how on earth he can agree to leave her behind while he traipses to the end of the world – THREE times! – to bring back silkworm eggs from Japan, is truly beyond me.

Quite frankly, it made us want to klap him.

And the director, too, for buggering up a perfectly good story.

Link: New York Times movie review

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For other movies we’ve watched in March, click on:

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