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There are some movies where honestly, i have to focus and make an effort to not fall asleep when i watch them. At first, you may think that it's a bad thing, and certainly, if i do get to fall asleep and later not care much about it, then the movie failed. But some other times, a strange phenomenon occurs: the movie is very slow, very moody, and it takes effort on my part to not fall asleep, yet, i can vividly remember images, music, characters, and the movie as a whole many days after. Even if i feel i have watched the movie in some sort of trance, the movie had an undeniable effect on me. The last movie to have had that effect on me was Kar Wai Wong's 2046 (2004), and i somewhat shamefully admit that Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975) or David Lynch's Eraserhead (1977) work that way for me too. One such movie that i just saw recently is Silk (2007). This is a hauntingly beautiful movie, with long precise shots, world class cinematography and art direction, a dreamy soundtrack from renowned composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, and a long tortuous story that spreads from France to Japan.
Herve (Michael Pitt) is a silkworm merchant in 19th century France. After the entire stock of African worms is wiped out by some disease, he is forced to go all the way to Japan to get a new stock of worms that would presumably be immune to the disease striking their African cousins. Once in Japan, he becomes obsessed by what appears to be a concubine of the local baron with whom he has to do business. All is proper and nothing happens between the two, but an intense attraction that affects them both under their skin.
The film succeeds in achieving several feats in my eyes. First, it's a delight to see the differences between Europe and Japan. The movie is so detailed that even the air feels different. Everything from the light, costumes, sets and outdoor cinematography reinforces the differences between the two places. There is never any doubt as to where you are at any given time in the film. Secondly, the movie is very successful at showing the cultural differences, and Herve, thrown into an unknown culture, becomes a master at navigating the differences, even if it almost costs him his life in the end. Finally, in our current world where sex is featured so heavily in everything you see, this movie manages to capture some of the most erotic moments i have seen without nudity. The first time Herve meets the concubine for example is a delight of the senses: the girl prepares tea and her absolutely choreographed movements are transcending, which only enhances our understanding of why Herve pretty much instantly falls in love. It's all in the editing, framing of the shots, and how the actors perform. That one scene is marvelous.
Canadian director Francois Girard (who did the acclaimed Red Violin, The (1998)) crafted a wonderful movie that really surprised me. I had to really focus as to not fall asleep due to the very slow nature of the film, and yet, i managed to absorb it all and remember it vividly many days after. This is a movie that affected me by its beauty, intelligent story, and believable depiction of a passion and obsession that could never be satisfied. The end only reinforces all these elements with a wonderful twist that peaks into the human soul which i'll let you discover.
- Laurent Hasson