Director: Francois Girard
Canadian director Francois Girard reteams with his Red Violin cinematographer Alain Dostie for this exquisitely photographed adaptation of the 1997 novel by Italian author Alessandro Baricco. Frequent Gus Van Sant star Michael Pitt returns to the thematically similar sensuous period material he worked on in the Bertolucci’s underrated The Dreamers in this film that, like Dreamers takes place largely in France and concerns a love triangle, yet unlike the NC-17 1960’s set Dreamers, we journey farther back in time to 19th century provincial France for Silk.
Quickly into the piece, we meet Herve Joncour (Pitt) who, returning from army service falls in love with Helene (Keira Knightley), a beautiful local schoolteacher he soon marries before settling down in the countryside to give his wife the opportunity to grow her dream flower garden. To fund the garden and support their lifestyle, he accepts a dangerous proposition from Baldabieu (Alfred Molina), an idealistic businessman who likes to apply the same risk taking spirit he employs in his ritualistic pool games to his silk trade by sending Herve off to exotic locales in search of delicate and rare silkworms.
Herve’s travels take the newlywed away from home so often that most scenes between him and Helene consist of farewells and arrivals and their relationship is not only tested by the distance and his frequent absence but also in the form of the gorgeous concubine (Sei Ashina) of a baron Hara Jubei (Koji Yakusho) when he journeys to the increasingly volatile pre-war Japan. Known only as “the girl,” Ashina’s character haunts the rest of the film as Herve returns back to France with a love note she’d pressed in his hand that makes him return back to the war-torn land before settling back home in France.
A visual postcard, the film’s breathtaking cinematography makes up for the feeling of vagueness that permeates the film’s characters and actions including a frustrating conclusion that will have most viewers either scratching their heads or turning to the novel or other sources hoping for a more concrete explanation. Yet, despite feeling sometimes detached by the coolness of the action, the majestic beauty and painterly execution of the piece is sure to delight those who enjoyed Girard’s previous and superior Violin as well as Knightley enthusiasts eager to see her in a subtle supporting role where even her staggering beauty is outmatched by the lush visuals and attention to detail that no doubt skyrocketed the film’s production budget.