A review of “Silk” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: R for tepid sexuality and nudity

Run Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

 

 

Alessandro Baricco’s lyrical short novel is tentatively re-imagined as a saccharine love story with minimal depth. Sigh.

The setting is dreamy 19th century France, where idealistic military officer Herve Joncour (perma-pouty Michael Pitt) woos and marries elegant and beautiful schoolteacher Helene Fouquet (Keira Knightley) but tires of his lengthy absences and being far from his lover’s embrace.

Salvation arrives in the form of free-thinking entrepreneur Baldabiou (Alfred Molina) who offers Herve financial stability and the opportunity of a lifetime: an exotic journey to the untamed Fukushima Mountains of Japan to fetch a shipment of silk worm eggs so Baldabiou can establish his own silk mill in their tiny French village.

Herve sets off for Japan – a perilous journey through Europe and Moravia and across the treacherous Russian Steppes to a rusty smuggler’s ship – full of fire and promise. Once in the Land of the Rising Sun he not only scores the prized eggs but also a precious glimpse of a powerful trader’s ethereal young concubine (newcomer Sei Ashina) with whom he becomes instantly captivated.

One trip becomes another and another and Herve’s attraction turns to obsession. An unhealthy fixation that stands in the way of a free and open love between Herve and his beloved Helene.

There’s not much to recommend when narrative and romance fall victim to convention. Pitt in the throes of erotic obsession is uncommonly passive; his demeanor and incessant reflective voice-over yielding zero in the way of passion, unbridled or otherwise.

Global comings-and-goings and their inevitable culture clashes lend promise, an East meets West drama never fully realized. Production designer François Séguin works wonders with the international locales but pacing is measured to a fault.

Legendary Japanese actor Koji Yakusho offers up some desperately desired charisma and Knightley’s natural appeal is a plus – she sparkles onscreen but who can ignore her rapidly (and alarmingly) shrinking frame?

The intoxicating object of desire has nothing to do but look fetching, which about sums up the entire project.