If Marco Polo had been a Valley girl, his diaries might have read like Michael Pitt’s somnolent voiceover, which slows this tale of 19th-century adventure and heartbreak to a halting crawl. Aimless Hervé Joncour (Pitt) is pressured by his stern father into undertaking a military career. Local entrepreneur Baldabiou (Molina) offers an escape: He needs Hervé to smuggle healthy silkworm eggs from Japan. After marrying clever local beauty Hélène (Knightley), Hervé traipses ever so slowly through handsomely art-directed period interiors until he reaches exotic Japan. He falls in love with the mysterious concubine of his trading partner (Yakusho) and guiltily lusts in his heart for the better part of 15 years.
Cinematographer Alain Dostie’s luminous images are consistently breathtaking, but Alessandro Baricco’s source novel is intensely interior and demands a lead whose face can register deep, flickering emotions. And 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 some life into the proceedings, but they’re fighting a losing battle.