Fear and Trembling

From the Chicago Reader (June 17, 2005). –J.R.

This fascinating oddity from Alain Corneau (Tous les matins du monde) adapts Amelie Nothomb’s autobiographical novel about the office life of a young Belgian (Sylvie Testud) working for a huge corporation in Tokyo. Though she’s spent her childhood in Japan and speaks fluent Japanese, a string of cultural blunders leads to one humiliating demotion after another. Testud took a two-month crash course in the language to play this part, and though the notations on cultural difference are far richer and subtler than anything in Lost in Translation, I can’t help but wonder what Japanese viewers might think of this film’s blistering critique of some of their hierarchies and protocol. The unconventional take on power and freedom, enriched by a deft use of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, remains that of an outsider. In Japanese and French with subtitles. 102 min. Music Box.

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