In “Sidonie in Japan”, Isabelle Huppert “lost in translation”


Couldn’t a film set itself the mission of reconciling comedy and elegy, without falling into the compromise of sweet bitterness? In any case, it is at the fine crossroads of these contrary moods that Elise Girard ( Belleville Tokyo , 2011; Funny Birds , 2017), a former film buff press officer who moved behind the camera, wrote her third feature film, written with Maud Ameline and the late Sophie Fillières, filmmaker and screenwriter who died at the age of 58 in July 2023, renowned for her “cock and donkey” humor. We will not be surprised then that this travel story, juggling with tones, seeks its melancholy in the comical forms of shift and displacement.

The title sets the tone with the candor of a child’s album: Sidonie in Japan is a Westerner on tour in a country she doesn’t know, and in whom the distance from things opens a cottony interior parenthesis. And who better to embody it than a virtuoso of phase shift like Isabelle Huppert, who, projected to the antipodes, continues here an informal series of journeys in Asia after her adventures with the South Korean Hong Sang-soo ( In Another Country , in 2012, and A Traveler’s Need , in 2024).

Sidonie therefore embarks, hesitantly, on a sixteen-hour flight to Osaka, in order to support the reissue of her first book, a best-selling book. Her editor, Kenzo Mizoguchi (Tsuyoshi Ihara) – no relation to the famous director – waits for her at the airport, then chaperones her in a tour of signings and interviews.

The two immediately form a dysfunctional duo: he, very touchy and reserved, she, a bouncy and uninhibited little French woman. They nevertheless come together on the ground of mourning, each dragging their dead and their sadness in the soul. Moreover, each time that Sidonie, passing from hotel to ryokan (traditional inn), finds herself in the privacy of a room, clues of a third presence reach her: open window, opened bentos, credit cards. play sown on the tatami. And as in Japan it is accepted that spirits surround the living, a ghost (August Diehl) does not take long to appear to him.

Intimate echo chamber

Sidonie in Japan , throughout the sphere of her heroine, approaches the journey in minor mode, in small touches, establishing a sort of color chart of oddities and inconveniences. The complexity of the Japanese code of politeness, to which the foreigner remains impervious, is a source of both comical clashes and bitter hesitations. The sober use of the fixed shot sets up a small theater of slippage around Sidonie, a foreign body in the Japanese setting. However, it is the experience of solitude that the staging refers to, through the width of the frames, its languid rhythm and its quiet progression.

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