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35 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Come back or I shall die'
For those who fell under the spell of Alessandro Baricco's novel SILK, a meditation about love, desire, and conflict, this cinematic transformation adapted as a screenplay and directed by François Girard will not disappoint: reservations about making Baricco's poetry visual are for the most part put to rest. The resulting film, SILK, is supported by a sensitive cast,...
Published on February 27, 2008 by Grady Harp

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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "What We Were Meant To Do We Have Done"
The '07 romance `Silk' is one of the most visually stunning films in recent memory which in and of itself is enough reason for one to give this movie a viewing. Unfortunately once you move beyond the lush, sumptuous landscape and the hopelessly romantic soundtrack you come face to face with a slow, plodding storyline that even the most lovelorn amongst us would have...
Published on March 30, 2008 by Brian E. Erland


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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "What We Were Meant To Do We Have Done", March 30, 2008
This review is from: Silk (DVD)
The '07 romance `Silk' is one of the most visually stunning films in recent memory which in and of itself is enough reason for one to give this movie a viewing. Unfortunately once you move beyond the lush, sumptuous landscape and the hopelessly romantic soundtrack you come face to face with a slow, plodding storyline that even the most lovelorn amongst us would have trouble staying with.

Keira Knightley is the vision of loveliness her audience has come to expect but love interest Michael Pitt is way over his head, failing to display the emotional depth and angst required for this role. With a more established, polished actor in this role who knows, maybe this could've been a love story for the ages?
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars On Silk, December 14, 2008
This review is from: Silk (DVD)
It's been years since I read the Alessandro Barrico novella this film was based off, but what I do remember is its slight weight - the book is 91 pages long, the pages being not much bigger than your average Japanese paperback and a good many of them only half-inscribed. The book is minimalist and quite heavily stylised in its language. Translating such a book onto celluloid would be a tough ask for anyone.

'Silk', like its namesake, certainly looks the part. The entire film has been beautifully shot, and landscapes that depict the main character, Herve's, crossing of Eurasia are particularly breathtaking. Costumes, sets, every visual has been executed with an eye to even the smallest detail. 'Silk' is sumptuous to look upon. Unfortunately, that's about all the film has to recommend itself.

Plotwise, the film narrative follows the book adequately. Herve Joncour (Michael Pitt), on leave from the French Army in 1862, returns to the small French village where his father is mayor and falls in love with the local school teacher, Helene (Keira Knightley); he's promised a helping hand in marrying her by the entrepreneur, Baldabiou (Alfred Molina), if he agrees to fetch silkworm eggs to replenish the town's disease-ridden stocks. Herve of course agrees, gets to marry Helene, and soon enough is on his way to Japan, where he becomes infatuated with the village headman's beautiful, silent concubine. The rest of the film is concerned with the results of this infatuation over the course of the next decade or so. Coming as it does from such a skeletal book, stretching the film out to two hours was a mistake. The action crawls at a pace that would put a snail to shame, and most of the plot developments are predictable (barring the final revelation, which even in the book I thought was ridiculous).

This was a script that relied heavily on its actors to bring fresh life to characters and stories that audiences these days are all too familiar with. And therein lies my biggest gripe with 'Silk'. In the hands of a charismatic or capable lead actor, the film may have overcome its stilted pacing, but whoever decided to cast Michael Pitt in the lead role might have been better off casting two planks of wood. There's very little connection with the character and no attempts made to connect with the audience; Pitt has, if I might borrow a phrase from Hermione Granger, the emotional range of a teaspoon. Every line (including endless voiceovers) is delivered in the same unremarkable, Romeo-in-the-tenth-grade-play mumble. Pitt looks throughout the entire film either half-asleep, stoned or suffering the after-effects of a stroke. As a lead actor in a romantic drama about unrequited love and passionate obsession, his is possibly one of the worst performances in recent memory.

It's only Keira Knightley's performance as the faithful Helene that rescues this film from complete frigidity. Known mostly to me in roles where the adjectives 'exaggerated', 'extroverted' or 'spirited' are simply bywords for 'annoying as all get out', Knightley shows surprising restraint in her portrayal of Helene as the childless wife, growing more weary and heartsore as the years pass, knowing full well her husband's heart is (supposed to be) possessed by another. Despite her dearth of screen time, in the end it is Helene's anguish and turmoil that provides the only real emotional connection within the film.

I was disappointed with the film's rather stereotypical portrayal of Japan as the Inscrutable Orient. The village headman is kindness and generosity itself until he (inevitably, inexplicably) turns on Herve. The nameless women are presented as subservient to the point of mutability; the headman's concubine disappears into the onsen waters as though her existence were nothing more than a wisp of smoke. Japanese women here are basically reduced to sexual objects, so much so the only one permitted to speak is a prostitute, plying her trade in France. Incredibly disappointing.

Overall, 'Silk' is a beautiful looking film that is seriously hampered with issues of pacing and a lead actor who couldn't act his way out of a mime's imaginary box. Devotees of landscapes, cinematography, or Keira Knightley might get something out of it, but for the general populace - do yourself a favour and just read the book (it'll take less time).
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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A lifeless, listless, loveless love story, June 19, 2008
This review is from: Silk (DVD)
Like many well-intentioned adaptations, "Silk" fails in its horrible execution. We supposedly have an adventurous silk trader, Herve Joncour (Michael Pitt), who undertakes the perilous journey from France to Japan in the mid-1800s in search of blight-free silkworm eggs that would ensure his village's prosperity in the silk industry. Married to a fetching wife and, from all accounts, in love with her, our intrepid traveler becomes obsessed with a Japanese concubine in his first trek to Yamagata. On the pretext that Japan's silkworm eggs are worth the frequent traveler miles, Herve returns to Japan to obtain yet another glimpse of his amour. We are obliged to accept that the largely lethargic Pitt traverses these thousands of miles (3 times!) by carriage, rail, ship, caravan and horseback, when it looks like he can't even get across town without being toppled by a strong breeze. Straining to evoke a Dr. Zhivago-like epic, it only succeeds at looking ludicrous. Permanently sporting a pout like a child scolded for playing with worms, Pitt mumbles in a monotone with one wooden facial expression all throughout, in perfect accompaniment to his sleep-deprived droning voiceover narration for the film's painful 110 minutes. As badly miscast and as anemic as Pitt's acting is, it is equaled, agonizingly enough, by the same lifeless performance of Keira Knightley as Herve's wife Helene. Mostly relegated to bidding Herve a spiritless goodbye whenever he departs and a spiritless hello whenever he returns, one wonders if the absence of affect and chemistry with the two was a joke on the audience that they secretly delighted in.

It may have been possible to forgive such lackluster acting if there was a story to behold. When the procurement of silkworm eggs is more riveting than Herve's infatuation with the unnamed concubine, then I know there's no redemption. I am as perplexed as those who've seen director Francois Girard's "Red Violin" in the `90s, a magnificent film that remains one of my favorites to this day. A feudal Japan of the 1800s, still closed to the west, with its warring warlords and bewildering culture would have been ripe for exposition, injecting the much-needed tensions and conflicts the film sorely lacks. To not have attempted to incorporate it in any meaningful way with the lame love story was a fatal mistake. At least, it could have given the dying plot a fighting chance. This is nothing more than another dull and dreary depiction of the white man's fantasy of the submissive, exotic female, a stereotype that really is getting old.

I'm no stranger to arthouse, but honestly, it's films like this that give arthouse a bad reputation. The fantastic cinematography in "Silk," with breathtaking panoramic shots of Japan in winter, cannot rescue this inferior film. I've seen nature documentaries on PBS with more gist and drama than this turgid exercise. Come to think of it, I've seen turtles with more passion.
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35 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Come back or I shall die', February 27, 2008
By 
This review is from: Silk (DVD)
For those who fell under the spell of Alessandro Baricco's novel SILK, a meditation about love, desire, and conflict, this cinematic transformation adapted as a screenplay and directed by François Girard will not disappoint: reservations about making Baricco's poetry visual are for the most part put to rest. The resulting film, SILK, is supported by a sensitive cast, wondrous cinematography by Alain Dostie, a haunting musical score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, and is an appropriate extension of the beauty of Baricco's short novel.

Set in France in 1862, Hervé Joncour (Michael Pitt) is following his family tradition of military duty until a somewhat mysterious man named Baldabiou (Alfred Molina) approaches Hervé's father Mayor Joncour (Kenneth Welsh) with an idea to increase the tiny French town's revenues by capitalizing on the manufacture of silk. He talks the town council into fortifying his project and in a short time Baldabiou has several silk mills running. A problem arises when an infection attacks the silkworm eggs and threatens to destroy the business. Baldabiou convinces Hervé to travel to Africa to buy silkworm eggs to solve the dwindling supply. Hervé, meanwhile, has met and fallen in love with the beautiful Hélène (Keira Knightley) who is loving enough to encourage Hervé's travel to Africa for the eggs, a trip Hervé makes and returns with eggs that make the town's mills thrive, allowing the prospering relationship between Hervé and Hélène to result in marriage and hopes for a happy future.

The eggs are again attacked by disease and this time Baldabiou sends Hervé to Japan where the perfect eggs can be smuggled out of the country: the trip is arduous, long (through Europe, Russia, China to Japan), and while Hervé succeeds in securing the precious eggs, he also loses his heart to the seductive eyes of the baron's concubine (Sei Ashina). Upon returning home the town prospers, Hervé and Hélène try to have children, but Hervé is again forced to travel to Japan for more eggs - and to fulfill the longing to see the concubine again. Japan is now at war and the trip is far more harrowing than before and while Hervé doesn't satisfy his desire for the concubine, she gives him a note in Japanese as he departs for France. Upon returning to France, Hervé has the note translated: 'Come back or I shall die'. His love for Hélène remains strong and he shares the experience he had in Japan. A letter is delivered to Hervé, a beautiful love letter, and it is at this point that Hélène becomes ill and the events that transpire bring life to the real meaning of love in an unexpected way.

There are problems with the film: the Japanese conversations are not translated by subtitles (perhaps the director wants us to feel the alienation of a Frenchman in a strange land) making the viewer feel that chunks of the story are missing; the emphasis of the film is more concentrated on the beauty of the various locales than on the character development; Michael Pitt is a fine actor but the inner conflicts of his character are not explored well. But these flaws are minor when the scope of the film is viewed in full. It is a beautiful work and one that will satisfy the readers of the novel from which it was adapted. Grady Harp, February 08
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No scene anywhere in the film is less than gorgeous, January 16, 2009
This review is from: Silk (DVD)
Critics of the film are well within their rights to find male lead Michael Pitt a curious and somewhat leaden choice. Still overall, I find the extraordinary beauty of the settings he moves in to be compelling; can't think of another film that uses old villages in Italy (standing in for France) and Japan to such extraordinary effect.

There really isn't a scene in "Silk" that isn't beautiful on its own and depicting an almost Utopian loveliness to the 1860s period in France and Japan.

Though the story is reminiscent of "Shogun" and all other outsiders-confront-Japan movies (see Tom Cruise's "The Last Samurai" etc. etc.), I did enjoy the plot twist involving his wife's insight and simple devotion ... to say more would spoil the film.

I've seen "Silk" and "The Painted Veil" one after the other recently, and might have to say I preferred "Silk" in terms of having a more complex and subtle message. Both offer many beautiful visions of East Asia and help us think about how Westerners fare in their travels there.
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Visually Stunning, but Dramatically...Well..., March 23, 2008
This review is from: Silk (DVD)
"Silk" is like a soufflé; gorgeous to gaze at, but light and insubstantial. A lack of a real dramatic 'core', and the leaden performance of Michael Pitt in the lead, offsets some of the most breathtaking images of Europe and Asia I've seen in recent years.

The plot involves a young Frenchman's quest to bring black market silkworm eggs back to France, before Japan was opened to the West. Newly married to his lifelong sweetheart (Keira Knightley, who is quite good), he finds himself smitten by a beautiful Japanese concubine (Sei Ashina), who, despite never consummating with, he fantasizes about, on the basis of a note in Japanese, which hints she harbors the same feelings toward him.

Thus hangs the 'drama', and on the basis of his lifelong guilt over this unrequited love, we are to feel an emotional attachment to the Frenchman. Sadly, I couldn't, as Pitt's one-note portrayal offered little to sympathize with. I found myself wishing that James Mcavoy had been cast, as he could have provided the kind of depth the role required.

Several good actors are wasted, particularly Alfred Molina, as the visionary who arranges the earthworm missions; the story's failure certainly defeats the fabulous cinematography, as well.

"Silk" offers far more than it delivers!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Big Thumbs Down, February 11, 2009
By 
S. Schell (OH United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Silk (DVD)
"Silk" was a film that I'd been eyeballing for quite some time, lured by its romantic cover of Keira Knightley in period dress and embracing actor Michael Pitt, their noses touching and suggestive of an imminent kiss. I realized after watching it that I got the most enjoyment out of just looking at the DVD cover. "Silk" is an incredible bore that has the misfortune of two very good actors (Molina, Knightley) trying to propel limp material.

The story takes place in 19th century France - Hervé Joncour (Pitt) is a former military officer who happily abandons his career for another: trading silkworm eggs. Due to a disease that begins affecting and killing off the local population, he is bid by his associate Baldabiou (Molina) to travel abroad for healthy eggs. He travels first to Africa, then to Japan, attempting to smuggle back eggs that will hatch healthy silkworms and produce massive amounts of silk, thereby bringing substantial profit.

His journeys to these strange countries are long and arduous and keep him away from his young beautiful wife Hélène (Knightley), who desperately wants a child. While in Japan, Hervé inexplicably becomes obsessed with a local man's concubine and when given a note from her, he finds a high-end Japanese prostitute back in France who translates it. The note reads: Come back or I shall die.

Despite a revolt in Japan, Hervé insists on returning there due to his urge to find the concubine and encounters hostility beyond what he thought possible. The trip is a lost cause - there is no sign of the woman he sought and all of the eggs he procures hatch prematurely and are therefore worthless. Returning home once again, Hélène finds him a changed man (not for the better) and he finds her a melancholy woman, one who unbeknownst to him is wise to the reason for his return to Japan.

The film ends on a sad note and with not much of a resolution - Hervé never found what he was looking for and in his ignorant obsession, loses what's most important to him. In short, it was a waste of film on several accounts: story, screenplay and acting combined.

Fans of Keira Knightley won't get even half of what they expect from her in this film, the onscreen time largely belonging to Michael Pitt as Hervé Joncour. Pitt is flat, dispassionate and utterly uninteresting - his voice rarely projects above the volume of a private conversation and is sorely lacking in inflection. With a monotone delivery to match his vacant face, the man may as well be an android and it makes me wonder whether this is the kind of performance that director François Girard (The Red Violin) wanted all along (that, or he did nothing to coax Pitt into giving more). If so, it deeply discourages me from reading the novel on which this film was based, as it's high unlikely I'll put up with a dry and lethargic character like Hervé for very long before giving up on the story entirely.

Alfred Molina is the saving grace of the film's many performance issues, managing to take what little he has and still make a good impression. The rest of the cast are largely unknown and blend in with the background, a scene-stealer in its own right; the film's luscious cinematography comes courtesy of Alain Dostie with location shoots divided between Japan and Italy. There are plenty of resplendent and artsy shots of the wintry landscapes in the Japanese town of Sakata as well as a verdant and fairytale-like milieu for the Joncour estate in the medieval village of Sermoneta, Italy.

Sound on this particular DVD is horrid - I found myself cranking the volume WAY up and still had trouble hearing certain people (Pitt in particular, what with his maddening mumbling).

Bottom line: Fans of Alessandro Barrico's novella would do well to avoid this somnolent adaptation - it is a useless companion to the book and does nothing to elevate the Italian author's prose or illuminate the story. If you're in a deep dark pit of boredom, the ennui of "Silk" will keep you trapped there.
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars disappointing drag yet revives old stereotypes, March 27, 2008
By 
aznchick (Orange County, CA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Silk (Amazon Instant Video)
As a contemporary Asian-American woman, I was disgusted by the portrayal of "white man fantasy for exotic/passive Asian concubine," one who needed "saving" from the "controlling Asian male" warlord, and Herve's obsession or fetish with that subservient Asian girl he barely knew while he had a beautiful/patient/devoted wife waiting for him at home. The scene where she undresses for Herve makes her seem even more like more of a commodity or prostitute. Notwithstanding, the only other major Asian female role was an expensive Japanese prostitute in Europe. It seems to be some nostalgic tribute to the ways of the past. Perhaps it would be less stereotypical and more insightful if the Asian characters had been better developed, like in Memoirs of a Geisha. This movie was extremely slow--maybe we Americans don't have that kind of patience for this--and the undeveloped story required so much reading between the lines that I still don't totally get it. I can understand this sort of media back in the early 1900s when Asian women were exotic dragon ladies and the like, but I thought we've gone much farther beyond that by now. I was hoping for a beautiful, thoughtful movie but ended up disappointed with the trite stereotypes.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What's with the accents?, November 26, 2009
By 
B. Carmichael "Cateye" (Tennant Creek, NT, Australia) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Silk (DVD)
This movie was just plain awful. I ended up feeling depressed and confused. Depressed because I had just wasted my time watching it, and confused because I had no idea how important plot points happened (eg. Keira Knightley writing the letter - there is no clue that she knows he has been cheating on her).
Anyway, something else that got my goat was: WHY ARE THEY SPEAKING WITH US ACCENTS? I didn't understand which country they were supposed to be in!! I honestly thought they were in the USA until he started mumbling about France! Then I though, wtf? They could've at least spoken in English accents if they didn't want to use French ones! OMG this movie was horrible! And the lead characters lips were so revolting to look at. He looks like he's had too much collagen and not enough sleep.
UGH, don't even bother!
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A truly wretched film, March 30, 2008
This review is from: Silk (DVD)
It is hard to believe a film that employs the acknowledged talents and charms of Ms. Knightly could manage to be as dull, trite and devoid of impetus as this disaster. The plot wanders aimlessly back and forth across the wastes of Siberia, and from one improbable assumption to another...for instance, given France's far flung Empire at the time, with secure maritime routes across the Indian Ocean and Asia right up to Japan's doorstep,why on earth is our hero trudging through Siberian icescapes to get there? I mean, on the way back you could assume I suppose the eggs needed refrigeration, but other than that it's just plain silly.

In most cases of pretentious B-movie drivel, the presence of a lovely and talented actress such as Keira Knightly acts as a sort of consolation prize. No such luck: she somnambulates through this train wreck as though she herself finds it hard to accept that she is really a part of the fiasco.

I can empathize. I can't believe I bought this DVD!
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Silk
Silk by François Girard (DVD - 2008)
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