Monday, April 23, 2012

I've Got Nothing: Writer/Director Francois Girard Disappoints With Silk.

The Good: Costumes, Peripheral characters are interesting, Cinematography
The Bad: Pacing, Dull acting, Bland protagonist, Somewhat predictable storyline, Voiceovers.
The Basics: A surprise disappointment from the director of The Red Violin, Silk is simply and terribly boring.

When a director has a movie that blows me out of the water, they always get at least one freebie; I'll take in another one of their movies sight unseen. So, I knew nothing about Silk when I picked it up. But when I turned the DVD box over and saw that it was written and directed by Francois Girard, who did The Red Violin (reviewed here!), I figured it was about time I watched another one of his films. Like The Red Violin, Silk is a period piece, unlike the other movie, Silk is not engaging, surprising or even particularly interesting.

As part of a continuing string of Keira Knightley costume period pieces, I arrived at my viewing of Silk completely neutral. It was written by someone whose work became the first DVD I owned, starring someone whose work has frankly never impressed me. Keira Knightley might be a fine human being, a nice person, what have you, but she seems to be used more often than not in the niche that until recently Wynona Ryder owned. Silk, upon reflection, continues that trend.

Herve Joncour is a young frenchman who reluctantly does his duty in late 19th Century France by serving in the military. The love of his life, Helene, waits for him and when he prepared to ship out with the military, a local entrepreneur arrives with an offer. Baldabiou wants to reopen the local silk factories, but he needs someone to go to Japan for silkworms because the African supply has become infected with a disease. Herve agrees, is released from his military obligations and marries Helene before setting off for Japan. In Japan, he finds that life as a smuggler is dangerous work and he finds himself intrigued by a local woman there.

Herve returns to his little village a local hero, bringing work to the mill, affording Helene a house and the two begin their attempts to have a baby. No baby is produced and when Baldabiou needs Herve again, he goes to Japan. He returns with a letter from the woman who enchanted him on the first trip and his heart is soon divided between his loving wife and the woman halfway around the world.

It's not the most original story in the world and the problem with Silk is that it tells an old story in an old way without making one feel like they are watching anything we haven't seen before (many, many times!).

The fundamental problem with Silk is in its pacing. This is a dreadfully slow movie. This is a tragically slow film and one suspects that Girard, who co-wrote and directed Silk is banking so much on the cinematography overwhelming viewers that they will forget that they don't care about the protagonist. To be fair, the movie looks incredible. Europe, Asia and Japan are shot in all of their breathtaking glory, from the Russian wilderness stretching across the screen to the foggy pools of Japan creating a haze that is seductive and alluring. There is little denying that Silk looks good.

But beyond that, it is dull. From the moment the first voice-over begins, Silk is painfully, tragically boring. One suspects that actor Michael Pitt, who plays Herve, is attempting to be reflective and convey regret in his voice, but instead he presents a slow, disappointing narrative that tells a story we can clearly see. So, for comparison, when I rewatched The Dark Knight (reviewed here!) I found myself especially disappointed in the line "The driver" (those who have seen the movie will know the moment I am referring to). A character foreshadows the obvious unnecessarily and in an otherwise incredibly smart movie, this is a huge disappointment. Silk does not compare in terms of the level of developed story and overall intelligence, but still, it is painfully blase when Baldabiou says that he will make something happen only to get the voiceover "And he did" while clearly showing that he did! We get it! I'm fed up with films and television shows using voiceovers to tell what can clearly be shown. The reason film works as a medium is one does not need the exposition, it may be shown instead of simply told!

Moreover, the tired stories of the infertile wife being played off the mistress has been done. In fact, it has been done to death and sadly, Girard does nothing new or special with it. In fact, Silk is a remarkably predictable movie. Once the pieces were in place: Herve, Helene, and the Japanese woman (she is not given a name in the film), it is fairly easy to see where it is going. While I want to say it makes a beeline for that point, it seems to take forever to reach its inevitable conclusion.

In the process, it presents characters who are largely uninteresting. Helene is characterized as yet another woman who defines her happiness by her ability to produce offspring. Even in 19th Century literature there were female protagonists who did not want to simply pop out babies. It's disappointing to watch another film where two people who love one another (supposedly) make themselves absolutely miserable in their attempts to have children. What happened to the romantic notion that people who fall in love can be happy with one another?!

The epitome of the boring characters, though, has to be Herve. For a smuggler, he is singularly boring and Michael Pitt is a disappointingly white bread actor to portray him. And there's flat characters and boring performances and sadly in Silk we are saddled with both. Pitt plays Herve as boringly as one watches him. Pitt seems as bored with the character from the opening frames as the viewer becomes within five minutes of watching him.

Indeed, if there is anyone who shine on the acting front in Silk, it is Alfred Molina. Molina plays Baldabiou as a strange business genius who has philanthropic and capitalistic desires. Molina balances the elements of Baldabiou to present a well-rounded character, not just a "type."

Sadly, Knightley gives us nothing we haven't seen from her before. And while others might rail against her inability to hold an accent in a period piece set in a different country, I refrain; in this case, it is kicking the performer when her bland character has already dragged her down.

At least she looks good while being dragged down as Helene. As for Francois Girard: one perfect film, one dud, he'll get one more chance from me. But for those considering giving him a chance on Silk, give it a pass and save that chance for his next endeavor.

For other films featuring Keira Knightley, please check out my reviews of:
Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Pride & Prejudice
Love Actually
Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the reviews of films I have written!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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