Foreign films can be enough of a challenge for most people, and foreign films featuring subtitles over English overdubs can be even worse. But a foreign film with subtitles in a language that’s foreign even to its own director can be nothing short of a frightening experience for the average film viewer.
Such is the case of the aptly-named Fear and Trembling, a French export film done almost entirely in Japanese. But if you’re not afraid of making the effort to absorb a little culture, than you may soon find yourself heading to the Ritz Theatre at Fourth and Ranstead streets for a second-hand journey into a completely different culture.
Fear and Trembling is the film adaptation of Belgian author Amelie Nothomb’s novel of the same name. The story is a fictionalized account of Nothomb’s own experiences working in Japan as a translator for a major corporation. Originally born in Japan, Amelie is the child of a Belgian couple who return to their home country when she is just 5 years old. Even with a limited memory of her time in Japan, Amelie is determined to return to the country she feels so deeply connected to, which she manages to do when she scores a one-year contract with the Yumimoto Corp. in Tokyo.
Fear and Trembling provides uninformed viewers with a comically-exaggerated look at Japanese office culture, as well as the delicate relationships between native Japanese and gaijins, or foreigners.
The film plays as a something of a cross between Secretary and Lost in Translation, only with an even more open-ended conclusion than the latter. This lack of resolution is the major problem in an otherwise entertaining film.
Clocking in just shy of two hours, the film tends to drag on at times as Amelie continually finds herself under punishment from her boss, Fubuki Mori, who also happens to be the object of Amelie’s vague lesbian desires.
Unfortunately, for the audience, this sub-plot never comes to much of a conclusion outside of Amelie informing Fubuki that she will not be renewing her one-year contract with the company.
While the movie has more than its fair share of laughs, the semi-autobiographical nature of the story tends to restrict the film from really engrossing its audience. But reality can be even more ridiculous than fiction at times, as can be seen in Amelie’s big “freak out” after months of crunching numbers as an accountant at the corporation that hired her as a translator.
If you have the patience to allow Fear and Trembling to play out at its own pace, and the patience to read subtitles, you may find yourself in the same boat as Amelie at the end of the film – learning that commitment through trying times is often a reward in itself.
Slade Bracey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.