French director Alain Corneau delves into the painfully irrational world of office politics, which are further complicated by a severe case of culture clash in his 2003 comedy, Fear and Trembling. Based on the similarly titled memoirs of author Amélie Nothomb and her employment experiences with a Japanese mega-corporation, Fear and Trembling begins with Amélie (Sylvie Testud) landing in Tokyo shortly after receiving her college education.
Amélie, a young Belgian woman, having spent her childhood in Japan, decides to return to live there and tries to integrate into Japanese society. She is determined to be a “real Japanese” before her year contract runs out, though it is precisely this determination that is incompatible with Japanese humility. Though she is hired for a choice position as a translator at an import/export firm, her inability to understand Japanese cultural norms results in increasingly humiliating demotions. Though Amelie secretly adulates her immediate supervisor, Ms Mori (Kaori Tsuji), the latter takes sadistic pleasure in belittling Amelie. Mori finally manages to break Amelie’s will by making her the bathroom attendant, and is delighted when Amelie tells her that she will not renew her contract. Amelie realizes that she is finally a real Japanese when she enters the company president’s office “with fear and trembling,” which was possible only because her determination had been broken by Mori’s systematic humiliation.
The title, “Fear and Trembling”, is said in the film to be the way Japanese must behave when addressing the Emperor. For Westerners, it calls to mind a line from Philippians 2:12, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”, which could also describe Amélie’s attitude during her year at Yumimoto.
Fear and Trembling lead actress Sylvie Testud won Best Actress award from Cesar and Karlovy Vary Film Festival. Acclaimed by the critics, Fear and Trembling is chosen the best comedy after the movie Office Space. Popular film critic Roger Ebert found the movie subtly sexual and erotic, despite the fact that every scene takes place in the office and there is not a single overt sexual act or word or gesture or reference.