If Marco Polo had been a Valley girl, his diaries might have read like Michael Pitt’s somnolent voiceover, which slows this tale of nineteenth-century adventure and heartbreak to a crawl. Aimless Hervé Joncour (Pitt) is pressured by his father into undertaking a military career. Local entrepreneur Baldabiou (Alfred Molina) offers an escape: he needs Hervé to smuggle silkworm eggs from Japan.
After marrying clever local beauty Hélène (Keira Knightley), Hervé traipses through handsomely art-directed period interiors until he reaches Japan. He falls in love with his trading partner’s (Koji Yakusho) mysterious concubine and guiltily lusts in his heart for the better part of 15 years.
DoP Alain Dostie’s luminous images are breathtaking, but Alessandro Baricco’s source novel is intensely interior and demands a lead whose face can register deep, flickering emotions. That’s not Pitt, whose wide, pale eyes are as opaque as a porcelain doll’s. Hence that voiceover, as annoying and persistent as a mosquito’s drone. Molina, Knightley and Yakusho do their best to inject life into the proceedings, but they’re fighting a losing battle.