Sidonie au Japon (2023)

April 16th, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir/Wri: Elise Girard | Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Tsuyoshi Ihara, August Diehl | France, Drama 97′

“Writing’s all that’s left when you have nothing”

Isabelle Huppert and Tsuyoshi Ihara make an absolute dream casting in this tender tale of love, a third feature for French director and co-writer Elise Girard.

Sidonie au Japon is a wistful contemplative look at loneliness, loss and longing amidst tranquil Oriental landscapes brimming with blossoms where Huppert’s writer Sidonie has come to promote her reprinted first novel ‘L’ombre Portée’ (The Shadow Cast) inspired by her own life.

On arrival at Osaka airport the distinct foreignness of Japan and its social contrasts disarms the widowed French woman sending her dazed and confused into a state of reverie and reflection. The subtle absurdity of this culture shock also lends a delicious dash of dark humour to what is ostensibly a sober tale of mourning and transformation for Sidonie and her enigmatic Japanese publisher Kenzo Mizoguchi (Ihara), who is still married, but unhappily so. The couple embark on a series of interviews and book signings, Kenzo escorting Sidonie on an illuminating architectural tour of Kyoto with the same transcendent energy as Kogonada’s 2017 travelogue Columbus.

Japan is very much a character here: a land of haunting stillness where  everything seems hushed and deferential in contrast to Europe and the West. This ambience has an increasingly profound effect on the jaded writer enveloping her slowly in the past where she reconnects with the spirit of her dead husband (Diehl) who is revealed in luminous sequences where the two reminisce and comfort one another. These are not ghostly scenes but ones where his entity offers uplifting enlightenment bringing about a gentle but cathartic shift in her state of being as she becomes romantically drawn to Kenzo who she had initially found overbearing, particularly his habit of insisting on carrying her handbag. Their courtship is tentative and driven forward by subtle body language rather than words: “in Japan we don’t talk about those things we just do them”, says Kenzo to the disconcerted Sidonie.

Elise Girard has clearly been inspired by the lighter-hearted ghosts from David Lean’s Blithe Spirit (1945) or Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) rather than the more doom-laden presence in David Lowery’s A Ghost Story (2017) with her characterisation of August Diehl’s Antoine and he gives a charismatic performance as the sun-kissed ghost in his hand-tailored suit and brogues. But the focus here is on the living and the interplay between Sidonie and Kenzo: a couple who somehow find each against the odds. Beautifully shot by Celine Bozon the closing scene is particularly amusing in referencing the apposite maxim ‘speech is silver, but silence is golden’. @MeredithTaylor







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