Dir. Francois Girard. Canada/Italy/Japan 2007. 112 Mins.
The idea of a romantic adventure set around the Silk Road of the 19th Century engenders thoughts of endless thrills and the exotic. However, Silk offers none of that as it meanders on the daunting trek with a combination of joylessness and ambiguity. It trudges when it ought to be sprightly and turns on the most tenuous of circumstances.
Though sumptuously mounted, the film has a hollow core that will be met with audience indifference. Fresh off its Toronto Festival debut, the period drama opened in North America to exceptionally poor box office and there’s no reason to believe the response will improve as it begins its international travels in Europe and Asia.
The tale opens in a small French village in 1862. Local entrepreneur Baldabiou (Alfred Molina) enlists Herve (Michael Pitt), the mayor’s son who has recently been decommissioned from the Army, in a plan to bring prosperity to the area by building a silk mill.
However, when worm eggs traditionally procured from Egypt become infected, the businessman sees no other option than to send Herve to Japan to retrieve a healthy cache. It’s a perilous journey to a land closed to foreigners and in the throes of political upheaval.
Director and co-adapter Francois Girard proceeds to mute whatever expectations one might have for daring-do, intrigue or danger. The voice-over details the arduous route and images briefly allow for fleeting postcard glances of the Russian winter and other locales. Herve sports a not terribly convincing disguise, but when he reaches his destination no more than suspicious looks are exchanged, and he whisks back with the silkworm eggs.
The story is elliptical, giving snapshots of Herve’s marriage to Helene (Keira Knightly), a woman of fragile health with an obsession for gardening, and of the memory of a concubine he fell in love with back in Japan that continues to haunt him once he returns from his first trip there.
Rhombus Media (Can)
Bee Vine Productions
New Line International (Los Angeles)
based on the novel by Alessandro Baricco