Studio: New Line Home Video
US Rating: Rated R for Sexuality and Nudity
Film Length: 109 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 2:35.1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: Optional English and Spanish
The Film - out of
Despite a pretty good cast, with Keira Knightly, Michael Pitt and Alfred Molina in key roles, Silk managed to fly way under the radar and make its way to DVD without a splash and absolutely no fanfare. Based on the novel by Alessandro Baricco and adapted for the screen by François Girard, (director of the award winning The Red Violin), Silk explores the life and loves of a French silk trader-turned-smuggler, Hervé Joncour (Michael Pitt) in the nineteenth century. Joncour, fresh out of the military, is asked by his new boss to travel the globe in search of silkworm eggs - no easy feat when you must rely upon horse, train and sail ships to make your way across vast distances. His travels take him to the exotic North African county of Egypt and eventually to the secretive and alluring mysteries of Japan.
Joncour has met and married the love of his life, the beautiful Hélène (Keira Knightley) and for a time, life for Joncour is calm; near perfection. But once his travels begin and he heads to the wintry splendor of Japan, he is quite taken by the concubine of one the local magnates with whom he trades for the precious silk eggs. He forms an unusual and unspoken connection with the young girl, distant but deep enough to fuel his need to return to Japan and create some difficulties for him with his love back in France.
Director François Girard tackles some serious and dark subject matter for what, on the outside, would appear to be a normal romance drama. Filmed with a stunning eye and maintaining an almost abstract pace and tone, Silk is a beautiful film to watch – the locations from continent to continent are presented with picturesque cinematography that it is truly a Director of Photography’s showcase and, at times, breathtaking. But beauty aside Silk has a few things that clearly weigh on its ability to be satisfying not only broader audiences but the many who seek out and thirst for those rare serious romantic films. Dark and in many ways a broodingly romantic, the story asks for sympathy for a man who is being unfaithful in his thoughts, even though such unfaithful notions are never consummated. As a film crafted with deliberate strokes, almost as those of a painter with the move of the camera acting like a brush easing colors onto canvass, it moves unusually slowly. The pace, along with the cold and isolating mood restricts joy and instead, intends to remain bittersweet as it explore the winter of human love.
The major issue, however, is most likely from its transfer from the page to the big screen – there are many times where the story onscreen feels like a compressed novel, missing passages or moments that might better tie events together or more aptly flesh out the characters and what drives them. That is not to say that the film fails the characters entirely, but for every step into the characters we make, it is almost as if you can feel several more waiting to be taken; only the film has moved on. The character that gets the shortest end of the stick, so to speak, is Alfred Molina. A fascinating actor, but one who in the film is never given the chance to shine. Molina plays the character of Baldabiou, town tycoon and an authoritative figure from the very beginning. Baldabiou ends up merely being the initiate of Joncour’s travels and little else. Somewhere in the translation from novel to film, the depth this character deserves is lost. This is never more clearly highlighted than the last we see of him in the story – a sudden and unsatisfying turn of events that lacks the right set up to make it as interesting as it was likely intended to be.
Issues aside, the film can be said to have showcased a wonderfully calm and measured performance from Michael Pitt. Most will likely know him as the introverted and highly intelligent murderous teen in 2002’s ‘Murder by Numbers’ – but here, he delivers a performance that is incredibly inline with the pace and tone of the film, almost soothing at times but never at the expense of his characters pain and impatience to explore the mystery of Japan and the captivating woman.
A lovely sense of sensuality also breathes within the film that stands out among the restrained, almost subdued experience.
Presented in the original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1, Silk is given a transfer that is, at best, problematic. The persistent winter and overcast settings (except the warmer, spring scenes in France) mean the film is a little darker than your average movie. Not an issue typically, but the image seems grainy and soft in the darker aspects to the point of becoming a distraction. It isn’t abhorrent, but since I have come to expect far more from New Line Home Video, the quality seen here was a sad disappointment.
New Line Home Video brings us this soft and subtle romantic drama with a pretty good 5.1 surround sound audio option. While there isn’t any overt chance for the film to explore the surrounds or low end bass, it finds ways to envelope by spreading out the lush and tempered score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, with its warm strings and the solitude of its piano. Occasionally a little too focused in the front speakers, it is overall a good effort
Sneak Peaks & Theatrical Trailer - that’s it!
Silk is a film that I really quite enjoyed, for the beauty of the piece, the lead performance and the wonderful score by Ryuichi Sakamoto. A darker than expected tale that achieves genuine emotional resonance with its ending, it is not hard to see why the film did not make a bigger splash with audiences.
Recommended if you prefer your tales of love to be less than obvious and a little less than approachable. Also recommended if you want to see how cinematography alone can make a film worth watching – it really is stunningly good.