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'Fear': Office Case

By Curt Fields
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 18, 2005; Page WE44

This quietly odd and hilarious tale is a bit like a Japanese version of the popular BBC comedy series "The Office" or perhaps the "Dilbert" comic strip at its peak.

It follows the path of Amelie (a charming Sylvie Testud), a young Belgian woman returning to work as an interpreter for a large corporation in Japan, where she spent her childhood. It's a steeply descending path, because in her desire to please and show initiative she continually runs afoul of Japanese corporate custom, and each offense results in ever more creatively cruel punishments. The film's humor bubbles along just under the surface, popping up at unexpected points. Each time Amelie -- and the audience -- decides that things can't get any worse, a darkly comic turn proves the fallacy of that belief.

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Director Alain Corneau uses a restrained, nonjudgmental touch. Amelie's antagonists are allowed to have their own humanity and are not mere caricatures. Because of this, you realize they, too, are victims in a way, not evil ogres. Based on Amelie Nothomb's autobiographical novel of the same name, "Fear and Trembling" incorporates music (Bach's "Goldberg Variations"), nods to the film "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence" and carefully modulated acting to create a captivating tale of corporate degradation and eventual liberation.

FEAR AND TREMBLING (Unrated, 102 minutes) --Contains brief nonsexual nudity. In Japanese and French with subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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