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Fear and Trembling

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France| 2003. Subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 107 mins.


An unusual French take on life in the Japanese workplace, Fear and Trembling is a tightly-executed social drama with a vein of absurdist humour discretely buried beneath the surface. The story, an adaptation of Belgian novelist Amelie Nothomb’s semi-autobiographical best-seller, is that of a Belgian woman (Sylvie Testud) who starts on the bottom rung of a big Nippon trading corporation and achieves the impossible by getting demoted. Her first transgression is to speak Japanese when serving tea at an inter-company deal meeting. As a westerner she was supposed to be a mute piece of eye candy. She goes on to compound her error by making use of her language skills and diligence to help a colleague from another department. In doing so, she breaks just about every rule of workplace hierarchy and drags other people into her anarchy.
The performance by Testud is remarkable not just for her linguistic skills—she speaks Japanese throughout the film—but also for the depth of her courage-under-fire meekness. In hands as capable as those of director Alain Corneau (Tous les matins du monde) and cinematographer Yves Angelo, Fear and Trembling moves along attractively and authentically.

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