Fear & Trembing

November, 2004, Comedy

Fear and Trembling

French director Alain Corneau (All The Mornings of the World) launched his career with a trio of gangster flics starring Yves Montand, and his subsequent work has roamed from one genre to another. In this adaptation of Amelie Notbomb's slight novel of the same name, he examines the power of suppressed feelings and the appeal of submissive behavior, employing the differences between western and Japanese business practices as his metaphor. Corneau's chosen an odd subject--and made an intermittently amusing movie. If that's damning with faint praise, he has only himself to blame.

Sylvie Testud plays Amelie, a young Belgian woman born and raised in Japan who has returned to her homeland to be educated. Because the memories of her birthplace are quite fond and her Japanese speaking skills excellent, she signs a one-year contract to work as a translator for a Japanese conglomerate in Tokyo, hoping to experience once again the serenity and clarity she felt as a young girl, emotions which evidence themselves in the passionate belief that the culture of her adopted country has much to teach her as an adult. 

Amelie is bright and articulate, but spending her formative years in a western European culture with its notions of individuality and gender equality, have left her unprepared for the rigidly structured environment she re-enters, where unsolicited casual conversation with ones superiors is considered insolent and open disagreement with a boss patently offensive. Despite obvious skills far superior to many of her colleagues, Amelie soon finds herself hunched over a copying machine or filing volumes of invoices. Determined to persevere and find some meaning in the belittling behavior to which she is subjected, Amelie refuses to resign, waging a campaign of submission to increasingly menial tasks, turning her demeaning situation into a war of wills. The focus of this struggle revolves around her relationship with Fubuki, an elegant, self-possessed beauty who also happens to be Amelie's immediate superior.

Ms. Testud makes a plucky heroine, and her insistence on pursing what she believes to be some mystical meaning inherent in Japan's culture makes for a few amusing moments, but by the time she's reduced to cleaning toilet bowls in the firm's washrooms at Fubuki's malevolent insistence, Fear has wandering far from its examination of the western mind encountering eastern inscrutability and into the far murkier regions of the sexual underpinnings of submissive behavior, a topic covered with far more perceptive humor and eroticism in the under-appreciated Secretary

A schmaltzy ending does nothing for the movie and even less for its purported examination of Amelie's psyche.

The verdict? This is one you can skip.  

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