François Girard's encore to The Red Violin spins a web of dramatic nothingness


on September 14, 2007 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
After his local stock perishes from disease, a late 19th-century French silkworm merchant (Michael Pitt) begins trading with an enigmatic Japanese nobleman (Koji Yakusho) for the pristine eggs he needs to keep his factories running. But he doesn't count on becoming romantically involved with a mysterious Japanese woman (Sei Ashina) in a long-lasting relationship that consumes his every emotion and eventually arouses the suspicions of his loving wife (Keira Knightley).

With Silk , director François Girard ( The Red Violin ) has fashioned a handsome and authentic-looking epic but one that is so underdone as to render all its inherent drama stillborn. As the merchant Hervé Joncour, Pitt offers up the same self-effacing, minimalist performance he gave as the suicidal rock star in Gus Van Sant's Last Days , but since he's supposed to be expressing a grand passion here, he actually undercuts the movie's potential erotic charge.

Silk is further ill-served by flat, portentous and occasionally risible dialogue and Girard's lugubrious direction, which consistently weighs the movie down with dull melancholy. Even its political subtext, Japan's slow opening to Western traders and their inability in turn to grasp the subtleties and nuances of Japanese society, is laid out in a cold, numb manner. Nor do the main Japanese characters ever come to complex, cinematic life.

Only Knightley as Hervé's tough-minded schoolteacher wife and Alfred Molino, restrained for once, as Hervé's daring patron, add a soupcon of emotional juice to this supremely dry tale. This thin silk doesn't hold together for long.

For complete coverage of the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, search using keyword "TIFF 2007."
Distributor: Picturehouse
Cast: Michael Pitt, Keira Knightley, Alfred Molina, Koji Yakusho and Sei Ashina
Director: François Girard
Screenwriters: François Girard & Michael Golding
Producers: Niv Fichman, Nadine Luque, Domenico Procacci and Sonoko Sakai
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for sexuality and nudity
Running time: 108 min.
Release date: September 14, 2007 ltd.
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