Fear and Trembling (2003)

“No one can obey an order like that.”

Amelie (Sylvie Testud), a young Belgian accountant, accepts a one-year contract with the Yumimoto Corporation based in Tokyo. Amelie was born in Japan and spent the first 5 years of her childhood there, and this fact has shaped her life so far. She’s become a Japanese translator and idolizes Japanese culture. Landing the job at Yumimoto seems like a dream come true.

Amelie’s mental fortitude is soon put to the test. She’s assigned meaningless tasks, but she revels in the glance of her closest superior, Fubuki (Kaori Tsuji). Amelie considers Fubuki the epitome of perfect Japanese beauty. While Amelie speaks excellent Japanese, she seems unaware of many cultural expectations, and a few initial blunders lead to her constant humiliation and demotion in the office. At one point she even describes herself as the “Sisyphus of accounting.”

“Fear and Trembling” is based on the novel and real life experiences of author, Amelie Nothomb. Watching the pixie-like actress, Sylvie Testud as she suffers humiliation after humiliation certainly brings back memories of all the horrible jobs we’ve ever held. Most of us will be able to relate in some fashion to the unreasonable expectations Amelie’s monstrous supervisors demand from her. “Fear and Trembling” is touted as a comedy, and the clash of cultures in the film are at times very funny. However, if viewers watch the film thinking that they’re about to watch a sidesplitting comedy, then they may be disappointed. “Fear and Trembling” explores–painfully at times–the way people admire other cultures–sometimes even to absurd levels. Amelie’s fortitude and continued suffering at the Yumimoto office may be considered admirable or self-destructive depending on how you look at it. She absorbs petty, spiteful insults until she’s less than a human to most of her coworkers. Does she ‘win’ in the end? Does she prove anything here? On yet another intriguing level, the film very cleverly plays with the idea that while Amelie fails to melt into the Yumimoto Corporation, her Japanese colleagues have also failed abysmally to integrate her effectively into their system. “Fear and Trembling” is an incredible film, and its subtle themes resonate long after the final credits roll. From director Alain Corneau–in French and Japanese with English subtitles.

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