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Sunday, October 23, 2011

STUPEUR ET TREMBLEMENTS / FEAR AND TREMBLING (2003)

Alain Corneau’s brightly colored film of Amélie Nothomb’s autobiographical book (on her year working as an office assistant in Japan) is basically LOST IN TRANSLATION/’03 meets AMÉLIE/’01. A young Belgian woman (named Amélie, of all things!) wangles a job in Japan, hoping to revive the Asian self she remembers from living there as a little girl. But, like that other AMÉLIE, this film has a paralyzing case of the ‘cutes’ and, like LOST IN TRANSLATION, not enough meat on its bones to fill out a feature. What keeps it going are the constant misreadings this Amélie makes of her co-workers and the truly balmy office culture that has been grafted out of Western Capitalism & Japanese etiquette. If only Sylvie Testud’s Amelie weren’t such a nincompoop. It only justifies the staff’s behavior toward her, making the inscrutable East ‘scrutable.’ When Amélie daydreams herself into flights of fancy over the city-scape, the only thing that really flies out the window is our sympathy. But try to hang in there for her final day at the office. (Or fast-forward.) Moving up the office chain of command & offering formal regrets; suddenly, everyone starts acting their parts, toeing a thin line between honesty & face-saving politeness. And the possibilities of the film briefly come into focus.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: In Paramount’s delightful omnibus comedy, IF I HAD A MILLION/’32, Charles Laughton, in a segment directed by Ernst Lubitsch, works his way up a similar chain of command and manages to tell us everything we need to know about his office in a neat three minutes. Leaving about 80 minutes for another six succinct stories from other parties.

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