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VENICE 2023 Giornate degli Autori

Review: Sidonie in Japan

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- VENICE 2023: Following in the wake of Isabelle Huppert, Élise Girard imposes her own trademark aerial cinematography, travelling in Japan and exploring the contours and the echoes of reality

Review: Sidonie in Japan
Isabelle Huppert and Tsuyoshi Ihara in Sidonie in Japan

"People like us share secrets", "visible and invisible worlds co-exist". French filmmaker Élise Girard belongs to a category of filmmakers with singular voices who deliver a highly personal and subtly off-beat style at a leisurely pace which runs counter to modern-day frenzies. Her great yet intentionally low-key originality was previously well-received in her first two feature films (Belleville Tokyo [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
and Strange Birds [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Elise Girard
film profile
]
) and finds the perfect means of expression in her new opus, the delectable Sidonie in Japan [+see also:
trailer
interview: Élise Girard
film profile
]
, which was unveiled in competition in the 20th Giornate degli Autori, unfolding within the 80th Venice Film Festival. Just like the words "nothing" and "silence" which are inscribed onto the grave of writer Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, which is visited by the film’s protagonist, the quintessence of Girard’s work springs from its highly sophisticated minimalism, which actually speaks volumes and which provides Isabelle Huppert and Tsuyoshi Ihara with wonderful roles.

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"Everything is strange, I feel changed". Staying in Japan for the first time on the occasion of the republication of her first book (L’ombre portée), Sidonie (Isabelle Huppert) - a famous French writer (who no longer writes) who’s invited to the country by her local editor Kenzo Mizoguchi (who has nothing to do with the filmmaker of the same name) - arrives drowning in endless sorrow over the accidental death of her husband many years earlier. From one hotel to another and countless journeys (by car, train and ferry), to meetings with the press and book signings, not to mention multiple touristic visits to Kyoto and the surrounds (Tōdai-ji in Nara Park with its 16-metre-high Buddha statue, Hōnen-in Temple, Naoshima Island, blooming cherry blossom trees, etc.), Sidonie and Kenzo (Tsuyoshi Ihara) slowly grow close, gradually closing the divide caused by considerable cultural differences (initially the source of some comedic if not outright slapstick scenes) and moving into the territory of intimate secrets and burgeoning feelings. But "in Japan, ghosts live everywhere, all around us" and Sidonie’s deceased husband, the mischievous Antoine (August Diehl), soon resurfaces…

Playing its hand with great serenity, the film progresses over the course of six days, "like a story continually starting over", where everything is wholly recognisable (loneliness, fear of the unknown, emotions, the creative process, etc.), but where "everything works differently". We might say the same about Élise Girard’s brand of cinema, which might sometimes feel like déjà vu, but which actually work in a trompe-l’œil style. It’s a subtle and rare approach which boasts an undeniable charm, reinforced by a keen eye for beautiful settings (with the brilliant Céline Bozon heading up photography) and an understated play on clichés (sublime touristic décor, the various stages of burgeoning love with the climax of a surprising carnal love scene illustrated with photographs), but which also sees the director drilling down, without frills, into the simple and profound subjects of life, death, grief and rebirth.

Sidonie in Japan is produced by 10:15! Productions in co-production with Germany’s Lupa Film, Japan’s Fourier Films and Switzerland’s Box Productions. The movie is sold worldwide by Indie Sales.

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(Translated from French)


Photogallery 01/09/2023: Venice 2023 - Sidonie in Japan

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Elise Girard
© 2023 Isabeau de Gennaro for Cineuropa - fadege.it

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