Stupeur Et Tremblements


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Amelie travels from Belgium to Tokyo in 1990 and finds work as an interpretor on the 44th floor of a very tall building. She lived in Japan for the first five years of her life and has nostalgic memories of it.

On the staff of this large corporation, she is ritually humiliated, as if this is the way the Japanese treat round-eyed personnel. The hierarchical system demands blind loyalty, which means uncritical obedience and the suppression of individual initiative. In fact, to question anything a boss says is not tolerated. "There's always a way to obey,"shouted at a high pitch, will be the response.

It is difficult to understand Alain Corneau's motive for making this film, other than the fact that it's based on Amelie Nothomb's best selling autobiographical novel. Watching the fictional Amelie being treated with such contempt is like witnessing mental torture. Of course, she could leave but that would be considered "losing face" and, because she wants to be accepted, she suffers in silence, desperately grasping at any straw of encouragement, in the hope that she might find a position within the firm that offers a modicum of self respect.

In the tradition of modern French cinema, Corneau employs a voice-over narrative to express Amelie's motivation and feelings. Her character is not naturally submissive, but, because of her situatioin, together with a steely detemination, she embraces humiliation, rather than allowing it to destroy her.

Seemingly racist in its portrayal of the Japanese as slaves to their culture of institutionalised bullying, the satirical aspects of the film are lost. It doesn't take too wide a leap of the imagination to transpose the business envirnonment to a POW camp. Whatever humour lies hidden in these extreme behavioral patterns, it withers before the cruelty of an ancient corporate tradition.

Sylvie Testud's performance is a saving grace. She remains true to Amelie's character and makes no attempt at portraying this vunerable young woman as a victim. However bad it gets, she holds onto a grain of hope.

In Testud's hands, Amelie has heroic qualities.

Reviewed on: 26 Oct 2003
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Belgian girls takes a job in huge Japanese corporation and suffers ritual humiliation
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Director: Alain Corneau

Writer: Alain Corneau, based on the novel by Amelie Nothomb

Starring: Sylvie Testud, Kaori Tsuji, Taro Suwa, Bison Katayama, Yasunari Kondo, Sokyu Fujita, Gen Shimaoka

Year: 2003

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: France


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