A comedy of wills and schadenfreude, a sort of French Office Space about a Japanese-born Belgium named Amélie (Sylvie Testud), who returns to Japan to work as a translator.Her boss is dissatisfied, so she is demoted to the tea delivery girl, which she is then criticized for being too gregarious during. The funniest sequence has her changing the dates on office calendars (at the change of the month: “Bonsai!”), before being reassigned the never-ending task of copying documents. She is befriended by a higher-up to assist on a report, but is betrayed by her believed friend Fubuki (Kaori Tsuji), who cannot stand to see her rise within the company when she has fought so long to get where she is. And so continues the battle of wills as Fubuki dispenses the most deprecating tasks, from working in accounting (“I found my Zen of copying invoices”) to bathroom attendant. There is a certain claustrophobia from any closed-in office setting, which assists in the frustrating anomie Amélie finds herself in, and the feeling is generally conveyed by the overload of close-ups and edited conversation. But the story itself, concerning Amélie sticking to her guns and playing to the malicious treatment of her superiors to enhance their satisfaction, is a tone and theme that director Alain Corneau does not betray. There are any number of ways to get the bigger laugh, the more audience-friendly reaction, the ultimate revenge, but he stays true to author Amélie Nothomb’s autobiographical story, which means there will be no comeuppance in the typical sense. It’s well enough explained what the character’s motivations are, even if at times the descent is difficult to tolerate; but the office-place war parallels itself with Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence as the clash of cultures and the outsider’s fervent attempts to fit within the customs of where she works are rejected. Testud (Murderous Maids) is superb in the role, perpetually flustered with a messy mop of hair, and her mastery of Japanese (which she learned only for the part) is impressively unrestrictive. With Yasunari Kondo.[Worth-seeing.]
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2003 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.