Silk demonstrates a growingly frequent conundrum of modern moviemaking -- namely, what do you do when the departures from the formulaic, repetitive, predictable mainstream are, in their way, just as formulaic, repetitive and predictable? Based on Allesandro Barrico's novel, Silk tells the story of a 19th-Century man who leaves France, and the woman he loves, to travel into the heart of Japan -- where few Westerners have been -- to bring back silkworm eggs to help stop a devastating plague that's wiping out the European industry. On his journeys to Japan, he becomes obsessed by the concubine of the local warlord -- so much that he returns again and again, despite the risk and expense, in the hopes of one more glimpse of her.

Silk is also, in less specific language, another in an endless series of pretty, vapid period pieces where the exquisitely tailored costumes hide racing hearts -- a by-now standard tale of passion under petticoats, strong connections under starched collars. It is also another period piece where a distant land and a distant love supposedly inflame our protagonist, but the ponderous, lumbering slow chill restraint in the staging sucks any connection and passion and heated risk out of the film. Finally, even with the stage set for globe-trotting clichés and reheated concepts, the film's dealt a mortal blow by the casting of actors who are, bluntly, out of their depth -- and not thrown a rope by director Francois Girard.