Say What?


on audiovisual translation, subtitling, and the French & American film industries

Un mariage pas très gai

The most exciting news coming out of Cannes this year was on police blotters despite the hullaballo that reigned down when the Palmaires were announced (and after apparently, from the author of the graphic novel which sparked the film.)  Though Cannes endorses artistic achievement and little else, in film, excellence and success can be mutually exclusive, and they rarely translate fluidly and identically, especially from France to the US.

That no major film with LGBT content has ever screened till now is unsurprising, as Spike Lee, flashing back to 1989, might have been one of the first filmmakers of any African descent to screen in competition.  This disconnect between popular media and social issues can also explain the domestic umbrage about the “foreign” laurels flung on the film, revealing the true colors of the anti-marriage crowd.

Unlike the American right which smartly realized that social progress is a one-way street, the French extreme-right, seems to be going after something it can gallantly lose merely to gain attention.  Would that this political contortionism could work to make real LGBT stories successfully visible to more people.


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Actors as Translators (and Interpreters)

Kristin Scott Thomas

Another testament that so much is knitting our world closer; this lovely article only confirms what I’ve noticed for some time.

By necessity, national film market borders are disappearing faster than polar ice floes.  But as formats get smaller and more personalized, and guaranteeing revenue trickier, consolidation is even more critical, all in a search for more “green.”

And along the way to all of that, I’m really happy to see Kristin Scott-Thomas getting much deserved critical attention for the wonderful work she does and has done.

Filed under: audiovisual translation, divers, French film industry, French translation, US film industry, , ,

Film Finance Update

Last week’s Beverly Hills Bar Association film finance seminar laid out the landscape for indie film finance, and the news . . . was not as bad as some might expect.

While certain elements–like investment funding–are lagging, soft money in the form of state film credits  and crowdsourcing are quite steady, depending on the location involved.   Most of the panel felt slate financing and pre-sales are definitively gone, but (legitimate) hedge funds have actually made a comeback, driven by American equity.

Without slates or cherry-picking therein, financing tends to be more random.  The types of content are unlimited though, excepting westerns and musicals, the province of studios.  But trustworthy sales agents are also key as structural differences aside,  little has changed from 2007 in terms of quality content and professional relationships holding sway.

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‘The Artist’ and Hollywood: What’s It All About, Uggie?

Before the internet, tweeting, and instant messaging, Oscar season sometimes lasted till . . . April!  By way of explaining my consideration of The Artist‘s sweep at last February’s awards.

Consistent with previous observations, this only confirms Hollywood’s coming out à la française not merely as an international marketplace, but more critically a berth for foreign product.  As heinous and Darwinistic Thomas Friedman’s thesis is, the world relentlessly continues to flatten as if in some Ayn Rand/L. Ron Hubbard nightmare scenario.

But instead of the nostalgic look back as most observers have framed it, I think Academy members and perhaps Hollywood generally is in the midst of a ‘media-forward’ conversion.  With the internet tolling the end of so very much–scheduled television, celluloid prints, the preciousness of audiovisual production itself–all at once, no wonder in waving an utterly unsentimental goodbye to a kind of Hollywood that’s increasingly hard to justify, it would seem as if the industry is not only recognizing the rest of the world in ways it rarely has before, but embracing it.

Filed under: audiovisual translation, French film industry, French translation, US film industry, , , , ,

Two to Watch Out For

I was delighted to see Dany Boon’s new film the other night, which on the one hand is a send up of our overly partisan yet constantly shifting world, and on the other an attempt to recreate the gargantuan success of his first film.

There’s talk of a remake (after Will Smith snapped up the rights for his earlier film), and it’s intriguing to imagine where they would base the comedy if transplanted here.  Canadian border comedy was long-ago exhausted by SCTV, and demographic-based humor can be tricky these days.

Otherwise, I was on-set last fall across the soundstage where this other film (itself reflective of  previous posts of mine about the ever increasing internationality of film production) was being filmed here in Los Angeles.  “Droid” or “avatar”, it looks like fun, and certainly an homage to American films from that time with a definite French touch.

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Translation Coming to a Theater Near You

While the piece in the L.A. Times highlighting Point Blank appeared a few weeks ago, the film is still in release, and I plan to see it soon, certainly before a remake happens.  It’s similar to other recent successful French thrillers, so the question arises:  is it still a “thriller,” and French, if the frantically pressured men aren’t rescuing strong but vulnerable women?  And would it be so phenomenally successful there and abroad if it weren’t?

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Bring on the droids, all hail the droids . . .

Without giving anything away, the new film Hereafter is the apotheosis of a “foreign” film (which might be an endangered species thanks to globalization) disguised as a “domestic” one (ditto).

At the screening I attended, the French star, the ebullient Cécile de France (a Belgian no less, but I won’t go there . . . ) even said director/producer Clint Eastwood gave her, and presumably her numerous Francophone colleagues, rein to translate their own lines into French.  Writer Peter Morgan wasn’t on hand unfortunately to discuss that, and I didn’t get a chance to ask her how that worked collaboratively.

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Cannes coming up

This years lineup, announced last week, looks particularly . . . mysterious? interesting? . . .  since most of the in-competition films premier there.

I did notice two films that at least have some web presence, one of which is a Facebook page (which clearly states the producers had no part in it-wink, wink).  The first, Draquila – L’Italia Che Treme (my very rough translation:  “Dracula – Italy trembles”) looks to be a political slam of Berlusconi by the comic actress and director Sabina Guzzanti.  A natural disaster is involved, along with the political response, from what I can tell from the trailer.

The other film is Les amours imaginaires by Québeçois wunderkind Xavier Dolan, whose previous J’ai tué ma mère was a big hit at last year’s festival as part of the select Quinzaine de réalisateurs (Fifteen Directors) section.  His new film, like the previous, features a gay protagonist, but this time it’s kind of a retro ’80s thing with boy and girl meet boy, and both fall for him.

Filed under: audiovisual translation, French film industry,

Sidebar: Personal recommendation

You’ll know by now that I’m a sucker for romance (with consequences), and my latest recommendation is no exception.  Eyes Wide Open was actually an official Cannes selection from Israel last year, and got a very strong review in the Times, yet despite all this I only heard about the film through an acquaintance.  And this, over a month after the film was released here in New York.

Subtlety is the name of both the games the characters play, and the art and skill employed therein by all involved with the film.  Except the subtitles, which though I can’t critique their accuracy as my Hebrew is long out of practice, but the timing on a good 25 – 30% of them is either early or late, especially toward the end of the film.  But do not let that dissuade you from going.

The film is powerful enough, both in its imagery and emotion to triumph over minor linguistic lapses.  And though I want to rail against the ongoing censorship of gay male romantic imagery as I did earlier, but this film is strong enough to speak for itself.  Shalom.

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The Year of the Avatar: translation and American film, 2009

This past year, American film discovered the world.  After Slumdog which was utterly bilingual and foreign, but made with USA/UK financing, American filmgoers were swept away by Taken, which seemed utterly American in its take-no-prisoners brevity, yet was 100% French from start to finish (see my interview with Unifrance’s John Kochman earlier this year), and managed to make it into the top 20 box office films of 2009.  (Something that Slumdog, even after umpteen Oscars and a delayed wide release last year, could not do.)

International film production, as not just a soup with different ingredients, but a real mix that can serve varying continental palates, finally, in the US anyway, seems not only viable but necessary and a reality.  By year’s end, Avatar was feeding positive messages to eight-year old boys about the difference between chosen and necessary warfare (via subtitles no less!), and It’s Complicated was subtly reinventing the American romantic comedy in a highly nuanced way, reminiscent and evocative of the other American south (as in “of France”).  And Nine, a remarkable translation of film to Broadway musical to Hollywood musical, announced itself as a flashy triumph of multi-ilingualism, with a literal and figurative tug of war for Daniel Day-Lewis’ heart and soul between the wonderful Marion Cotillard and the amazing Penélope Cruz, and Judi Dench mixing things up with her show stealing “Folies Bergères” number in French.

Having been smitten with both Italian film and Italy in my youth, I could understand why critics might fault the film for its stingy imagination cinematographically, confining the characters’ ruminations to a soundstage.  But certainly Cinecittà was a destination for Fellini and his contemporaries, professionally, and the tribute is fitting I think.

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