Translators and interpreters in the movies
Though it hasn’t been plain sailing, I have finally created a list of movies featuring translators and interpreters. From thrillers to sci-fi, rom-coms to comedies, there’s something for every taste. Have you seen these films? If you have any suggestions, queries, or just comments regarding this collection, don’t hesitate to get in touch!
Original title: Arrival Country: USA Release: 2016 Director: Denis Villeneuve Screenplay by Eric Heisserer. Based on “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma
Denis Villeneuve directs this outstanding sci-fi movie that will delight translators, interpreters, philologists and linguists. The movie revolves around communication with an alien species, that has suddenly arrived, seemingly out of nowhere.
The hypothesis of this sci-fi movie states that language alters the way we think and the way we see the world. This theory, which contradicts Noam Chomsky’s ‘universal grammar’, is known as linguistic relativity or Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.
The military, in order to work out whether the aliens come in peace or not, hire a linguist (Amy Adams) who, in turn, will experience important changes as she deepens in communicating with the extra-terrestrials.
It is a highly recommendable movie that will appeal to both linguists and good sci-fi lovers.
Also Known As (AKA)> Albania (complete title): Kontakti i Parë; Argentina: La Llegada; Brazil: A Chegada; Bulgaria (Bulgarian title): Първи контакт; Canada (French title): L’arrivée; Canada (English title): Arrival; Chile: La Llegada; Croatia: Dolazak; Czech Republic: Příchozí; Estonia: Saabumine; France: Premier contact; Germany: Arrival; Greece: Η άφιξη, Greece (transliterated ISO-LATIN-1 title): I Afixi; Hungary: Érkezés; Israel (Hebrew title): Ha’mifgash; Italy: Arrival; Japan (English title): Message; Lithuania: Atvykimas; Mexico: La Llegada; Peru: La Llegada; Poland: Nowy początek; Portugal: O Primeiro Encontro; Romania: Primul contact; Russia: Прибытие; Serbia: Dolazak; Slovenia: Prihod; South Korea (working title): Contact; Spain: La llegada; Turkey (Turkish title): Gelis; Ukraine: Прибуття; USA (working title) Story of Your Life, USA: Arrival; Uruguay:(original subtitled version) La Llegada; Vietnam: Cuoc Do Bo Bi An.
Chuck Norris Vs Communism
Original title: Chuck Norris Vs Communism Director: Ilinca Calugareanu Country: Romania Writer: Ilinca Calugareanu Cast: Irina Margareta Nistor, Ana Maria Moldovan, Dan Chiorean
A great documentary which is worth mentioning is Chuck Norris Vs Communism. In a miserable Romania set in the eighties, a young radio newscaster, Irina Nistor, dubbed thousands of smuggled movies which allowed Romanians to learn about the other side of the Iron Curtain.
Original title: The Interpreter Country: United Kingdom Release: 2005 Director: Sydney Pollack Cast: Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, Sydney Pollack, Jesper Christensen,Yvan Attal, Earl Cameron.
An African-born UN interpreter, a widowed Secret Service agent and a plot to kill the genocidal leader of Matobo are the key elements of this engaging movie. Both Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman nail their respective characters in this intelligent thriller. Catherine Keener, the supporting actress and winner of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award, deserves a special mention. The Interpreter isn’t a light and fun thriller; the viewer needs to be focused to keep track of the plot by Sydney Pollack. Recommended for any translator or interpreter fond of intrigues and unexpected turns.
Also Known As (AKA)> France: L’intèrprete; Spain, Argentina, Chile: La intérprete; Germany: Die Dolmetscherin; Greece: Η Διερμηνέας; Portugal and Brasil: A Intérprete; Russia: Переводчица; Turkey: Çevirmen;
Original title: The Terminal Country: USA Release: 2004 Director: Steven Spielberg Cast: Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Chi McBride, Diego Luna, Eddie Jones, Barry Shabaka Henley, Zoe Saldana, Kumar Pallana.
This movie is based on facts. An immigrant from the Balkans is caught up at the New York JFK Airport just after the war breaks out in his country. Soon, he starts experiencing communication difficulties. Despite the leading actor and director’s tendency towards unnecessary corny scenes, it is certainly an entertaining movie.
Also Known As (AKA) > Brazil: O terminal; Germany: Terminal; Greece: The terminal; Argentina, Chile, Spain, Urugay: La terminal; France and Canada (French title): La terminal; Portugal: Terminal de Aeroporto; Russia: Tерминал.
Original title: Stargate Country: EEUU Release: 1994 Genre: Sci-fi Director: Roland Emmerich Cast: James Spader, Kurt Russell, Jaye Davidson, Viveca Lindfors, Mili Avital, Alexis Cruz,Djimon Hounsou, Richard Kind, Erick Avari, John Diehl.
A linguist is given a curious assignment to translate some whimsical tables from Ancient Egypt. His translation will become the key that will open a fascinating but threatening world. Strongly recommended for translators and interpreters who enjoy sci-fi and fantasy films.
Also Knwon as (AKA) > Argentina, Mexico and Uruguay: Stargate: la puerta del tiempo; Brazil: Stargate, a Chave para o Futuro da Humanidade; Canada (French title) and France Stargate: La porte des étoiles; Germany: Stargate; Russia: Звёздные вратa; Spain: Stargate: puerta a las estrellas
Original title: Windtalkers Country: EEUU Release: 2002 Director: John Woo Cast: Nicolas Cage, Adam Beach, Christian Slater, Peter Stormare, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, Brian Van Holt, Martin Henderson, Roger Willie, Frances O’Connor, Jason Isaacs, Kevin Cooney.
A messenger man uses native American languages to send messages during War War II. The army, despite counting on anthropologists to try to decipher communications, can do very little. Although at times it can seem somewhat repetitious and far-fetched, translators and linguists may still enjoy it.
Also Known As (AKA) > Argentina, México: Códigos de guerra; Brazil and Portugal: Códigos de guerra; Canada (French title): La voix des vents; France: Windtalkers – Les messagers du vent; Germany: indtalkers; Russia: Говорящие с ветром; Spain: Windtalkers; Ukraine: Ti, що говорять iз вiтром
Original title: Charade Country: USA Release: 1963 Director: Stanley Donen Cast: Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy,Ned Glass, Jacques Marin, Paul Bonifas, Thomas Chelimsky.
Audrey Hepburn is a UN translator and interpreter whose husband is murdered for no apparent reason. This event triggers a plot that reminds us of Hitchcock. The grace that Hepburn boasts when getting in the interpreter’s booth has gone down in cinema history. It is a must-see for all Audrey Hepburn fans.
Also known as (AKA) > Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Spain, Uruguay, Spain: Charada; Brazil and Portugal: Charade; Denmark: Charade – tre mand frem for en enke; Finland: Charade – ett farligt spel; France: Charade; Greece: Ραντεβού στο Παρίσι; Hungary: merikai fogócska; Italy: Sciarada; Norway: Hvem svindler hvem?; USSR: Шарада; Turkey: Öldüren süphe; West Germany: Scharade
Original title: La Traductrice (The translator) Country: Switzerland/Russia Release: 2002 Genre: Drama Director: Elena Hazanov Cast: Alexander Baluev Julia Batinova Sergei Garmash Elena Safonova Bruno Todeschini
Ira, a young Russian woman in her twenties, lives in Geneva with her mother and doesn’t know much about her home country. Tashkov is an alleged member of the Russian mafia in jail waiting for his trial. Ira, who is a translator working for Tashkov’s defence attorney (defence lawyer) quickly succumbs to Tashkov’s charm, who is a powerful and learned man and seems to have the gift of reading her thoughts. But Tashkov will soon manipulate the young lady who wants to find her roots and her own way in life. When it dawns on her that danger can be hidden where least expected, it may be too late.
Original title: Fresh Suicide Country: India Release: Director: Anupam Barve
Short film shot in a very realistic style. A young Indian translator works for an American journalist who is creating a photo feature on farmers’ suicides in rural India. Strongly recommended.
Lost in Translation
Original title: Lost in Translation Country: USA Release: 2003 Director: Sofia Coppola Cast: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris.
An actor in hard times and a photographer’s wife meet in Tokyo. The language and cultural barriers work as a metaphor for the character’s isolation… something more than just a friendship will develop in this crossroads. Although it is not directly related to translation, it strikes me as an inescapable reference.
Also known as (AKA): Argentina, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay: Perdidos en Tokio; Brazil: Encontros e desencontros; Germany: ost in Translation – Zwischen den Welten; Greece: Xαμένοι στη μετάφραση; Italy: ost in Translation – L’amore tradotto; Portugal: O Amor É um Lugar Estranho; Turkey: Bir konusabilse…
Everything is illuminated
Original title: Everything Is illuminated Country: USA Release: 2005 Director: Liev Schreiber Cast: Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz, Boris Leskin
Rare and interesting movie telling the story of a young Jewish man who endeavours to find the woman who appeared in the picture his grandfather was holding in his deathbed. It also features the character of a translator/interpreter. The soundtrack by Paul Cantelon is also a great asset to this movie.
Also known as (AKA): Argentina; Mexico, : Una vida iluminada; Germany, Austria: Alles ist erleuchtet; Brazil: Uma Vida Iluminada; France: Tout est illuminé; Italy: Ogni cosa è illuminata; Poland: Wszystko jest iluminacja; Portugal: Está Tudo Iluminado; Russia: Cвет вокруг; Spain: Todo está iluminado; Sweden: Allt är upplyst
Original title: Spanglish Country: EEUU Release: 2004 Director: James L. Brooks Cast: Adam Sandler, Téa Leoni, Paz Vega, Cloris Leachman, Shelbie Bruce, Sarah Steele, Ian Hyland, Victoria Luna, Cecilia Suárez.
A Mexican woman with a low level of English migrates to the US to work in a wealthy family’s house. The language barrier is soon evident. The best part is during the end credits, though some people will dislike this movie, and others may even find it fun.
Also known as (AKA) > Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela : Espanglish; Brazil, Portugal: Espanglês; Canada (French title): Spanglish – J’en perds mon latin!; Croatia: Španjolski engleski; Denmark: Næsten helt perfekt – Spanglish; Greece: Iσπαγγλικά; Hungary: Spangol – Magamat sem értem; Poland: Trudne słówka; Romania: Cum sa nu devii american; Russia: Испанский-английский; Spain: Spanglish
La niña de tus ojos
Original title: La niña de tus ojos (The Girl of Your Dreams) Country: Spain Release: 1998 Director: Fernando Trueba Genre: Tragicomedy Cast: Penélope Cruz, Antonio Resines, Jesús Bonilla, Jorge Sanz, Loles León, Rosa María Sardà, Neus Asensi, Santiago Segura.
A group of Spanish filmmakers are invited to Nazi Germany to shoot the German-Spanish production ‘La niña de Tus Ojos’ (The Apple of Your Eye) at the UFA studios in Berlin.
As Carmina points out, the character of the interpreter shows up, playing a rather humorous role due to the embarrassing situations in which he gets involved in the making of the musical drama.
ALso Known As (AKA) > Brazil: Garota dos Seus Sonhos; France: La fille de tes rêves; Germany: Das Mädchen deiner Träume; Italy: La Niña dei tuoi sogni; Russia: Девушка твоей мечты; Turkey: Rüyalarin kizi; USA: The Girl of Your Dreams
Original title: Desert Flower Country: United Kingdom Release: 2009 Genre: Drama / Biopic Director: Sherry Horman Cast: Liya Kebede (Waris Dirie), Sally Hawkins (Marylin), Timothy Spall (Terry Donaldson), Soraya Omar-Scego (Waris as the kid)
Waris Dirie (Liya Kebede) is in the hospital and needs an interpreter. Much to her dismay, she comes across a Somali translator who is giving personal opinions instead of accurately translating what she says.
Also Known As (AKA) > Austria: Mädchen aus dem Goldland; Brazil: Flor do Deserto; Denmark: Tøsen fra Texas
Zero Dark Thirty
Original title: Zero Dark Thirty (2012 ) Genre: Thriller Director: Kathryn Bigelow Cast:Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Taylor Kinney, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Chris Pratt, Mark Duplass, Harold Perrineau, Jason Clarke, Édgar Ramírez,Scott Adkins, Frank Grillo, Lee Asquith-Coe, Fredric Lehne, James Gandolfini, Reda Kateb, Fares Fares, Stephen Dillane, Homayoun Ershadi
Instead of featuring only one interpreter, there is a collection of interpreters, who help trace Osama Bin Laden.
Also known as (AKA): Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Spain : La noche más oscura; Brazil: A Hora Mais Escura; Canada (French title): Opération avant l’aube; Hungary: Zero Dark Thirty – A bin Láden-hajsza; Iraq: Si daghighey-e bamdad; Italy: Operazione Zero Dark Thirty; Japan: Zero Dâku Sâti; Lithuania: Taikinys #1; Poland: Wróg numer 1; Portugal 00:30 A Hora Negra; Romania: Misiunea: 00.30 A.M.; Russia: Цель номер один; Ukraine: Tридцять хвилин по пiвночi
Original title: Babel Release: 2006 Genre: Drama Director: Alejandro González Iñárruti Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael García Bernal, Kōji Yakusho, Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kikuchi
Directed by Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu, with a script by writer Guillermo Arriaga, Babel premiered at Cannes on May 23, 2006 and completes Iñárritu’s “Trilogy of Death”, which started with Amores Perros.
This film was the Golden Globe winner for the best drama in 2007 and candidate for seven Oscars, among them best film and best director (though it only got the best soundtrack award).
The film narrates three intertwined stories which take place in different parts of the world: Japan, the United States and Morocco. It features four different languages with some hindrances related to language barriers (such as the American couple that suffers an accident in Morocco) or the communication skills (the story that takes place in Tokyo focuses on a deaf teenager).
Also Known As (AKA) > Sweden: Jakten på den magiska stenen; Bulgaria: Бабел
Original title: Blood diamond (2006) Director: Edward Zwick Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, Djimon Hounsou, Arnold Vosloo, David Harewood, Caruso Kuypers, Michael Sheen, Basil Wallace, Ntare Mwine, Stephen Collins, Chris Petoyan (AKA Chris Astoyan), Jimi Mistry
Leonardo DiCaprio plays the role of a white Rhodesian arms dealer in Sierra Leone. He sports an amazing accent and he also speaks krio and many times acts as an interpreter.
Also Known As (AKA) > Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Spain: Diamante de sangre; Brasil, Portugal: Diamante de Sangue; Canada (French title): Le diamant de sang; Greece: Ματωμένο διαμάντι; Italy: Blood Diamond – Diamanti di sangue; Romania: Diamant insangerat; Russia: Кровавый алмаз
The Interpreter (TV Series)
Original title: 亲爱的翻译官 (The Interpreter) Genre: Workplace rommance Country: China Director: Wang Ying Cast: Yang Mi, Huang Xuan
This list wouldn’t be complete without a special mention of this Chinese series starring Qiao Fei (Yang Mi), who studies French and dreams of becoming a professional interpreter. His mentor whilst studying in Paris is Cheng Jia Yang (Huang Xuan), the son of a foreign minister and an outstanding interpreter of French to Chinese. This series is based on the novel “Les Interprètes” by Miao Xuan. It was a commercial hit in China.
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