Monday, July 9, 2007

Fear and Trembling (FRENCH)

(Stupeur et tremblements)
Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Office Space, Japanese Style

During its economic boom, Japan was lauded for its unique management style. But now that the country has proven to be fiscally fallible, it has become fashionable to question the sanity of its strict corporate culture.
Thus, inscrutable office politics provide the backdrop for Fear and Trembling, a movie based on a semi-autobiographical memoir by Amelie Nothomb. The author, who was born in Japan but raised in Belgium, followed a primal curiosity in returning to her roots soon after graduating from college. This faithful film adaptation milks her ensuing East-meets-West cultural clash as nauseam.
The picture stars Sylvie Testud, the winner of this year's Best Actress Cesar for this portrayal of Amelie. That award must have been for her merely having mastered Japanese for the role, since there is nothing else compelling, interesting or likable about her character.
Upon returning to the Orient, she lands a job as a translator for a Tokyo multi-national giant. However, as a white female, her presence is met with a steely skepticism which gradually turns into a merciless sadism. Amelie, unfamiliar with the local rules of engagement, finds herself ill-equipped either to take cues from well-meaning confidants or to confront her adversaries in a socially-acceptable manner.
Shot almost entirely within the claustrophobic confines of her company’s maze of cubicles and computers, this adventure telescopes in on Amelie's awful predicament. The game girl’s masochistic nature enables her to accept a rapid succession of demotions to the point where instead of translating, she's serving tea, then delivering mail and, finally, cleaning toilets.
The Japanese could not possibly be as twisted or as condescending as presented here. Rather than quit, Amelie toughs it out, going so far as politely thanking her tormentors for the mistreatment. She clings to sanity by soaking in the skyline from her 44th floor window and by quietly fantasizing about her immediate superior, an unassuming beauty named Fubuki (KaoriTsuji).
A clean S&M flick, which only devotees of mental cruelty are likely to find satisfying.

Fair (1 star)
Unrated (In Japanese and French with subtitles)
Running time: 102 minutes

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