Just like literature, cinema is a great way to set off on a journey of discovery into other cultures, languages and ways of life. This interest in capturing other perspectives through the camera lens has produced many classic and modern films dealing with the subject of translation, either as a subject matter in itself or as a backdrop for some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Check out our top ten!
1. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016)
An outstanding work of science fiction by the director of Blade Runner 2049 Denis Villeneuve, starring the hugely talented Amy Adams as a translator given the task of communicating with some rather chatty aliens. The film delves into the process of translating an unfamiliar language and the potential effects of language barriers. Can she save the world with her translations?
2. Charade (Stanley Donen, 1963)
In what will always be one of Stanley Donen’s best films, Audrey Hepburn plays the role of a conference interpreter who sets off on a riveting adventure alongside Cary Grant, in arguably one the sexiest couples of the last 100 years (we are, of course, open to differences in opinion)! We wonder how many interpreting and translation careers were launched by this film?
3. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2005)
Of course, we can’t talk about translation in film without mentioning this cult classic. Directed by the fantastic Sofia Coppola, the film takes place in Japan, where two Americans on holiday – Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson – discover the delights of cultural misunderstandings and the difficulties of finding yourself far away from home, even when just for a few days. We particularly enjoy the scene with a Japanese translator and a very confused Bill Murray!
4. The Terminal (Steven Spielberg, 2004)
What’s the first thing you might need when detained in an airport? A good translator, of course (just ask Tom Hanks)! This film by Steven Spielberg tells the true story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian political refugee who had to live in an airport from 1988 to 2006.
5. The Interpreter (Sydney Pollack, 2005)
In this political thriller, Nicole Kidman plays the role of a conference interpreter who accidentally overhears a conversation between two politicians which could put her life in danger. This film is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat with its action-filled plot, and hearing the incredible Nicole Kidman speaking French at the start of the film is a charming moment. This film is guaranteed to please all Kidman and translation fans!
6. Spanglish (James Brooks, 2005)
This down to earth comedy is a real must-see. The title says it all: the film deals with the meeting of two cultures – American and Spanish – and all the cultural and linguistic misunderstandings that come with it. Everything would have been much simpler with a professional Spanish translator! Claro, hombre.
7. Okja (Bong Joon-ho, 2017)
Not necessarily a film about translation, but a very interesting exploration of friendship and modern industry by Netflix. In this case it is the translation of the film itself which is interesting. As we saw with the recent film, Roma, the film’s subtitles were the subject of much debate. Dealing with the linguistic differences between English and Korean is no mean feat, and at times things can get lost in translation in the subtitles. For example, in an attempt to translate a Korean joke about language learning, a character simply says their name and the subtitles say “Try learning English. It opens new doors!”
8. An Impossible Love (Catherine Corsini, 2018)
Once described by a member of BeTranslated who will remain anonymous as “to be avoided like the plague” we’ve included this film to hear your reviews! This romance by Catherine Corsini, based on the novel by Christine Angot, tells the emotional tale of the wonderful Virgine Efira and an abusive and sadistic translator played by Niels Schneider. Don’t worry, our language professionals are nothing like this unsavoury character and will respond to your demands in a much more civilised manner.
9. Welcome to the Sticks (Bienvenue chez les ch’tis, Danny Boon, 2008)
Perhaps not the subtlest film of all time, but certainly one with a lot of character. This hit French comedy includes some hilarious scenes of cultural and regional differences and lots of slapstick humour. Not to mention the admirable subtitling effort into English!
10. Chuck Norris vs Communism (Ilinca Călugăreanu, 2015)
This comedy documentary is a fascinating insight into the world of audiovisual translation and looks at just what happens when issues of censorship and politics come into play. The film tells the story of the illegal importation and dubbing of American action and religious films to Romania in the 1970s and 1980s, and the political consequences of this cultural exchange.
What do you think? Is there one we missed out? We would love to hear about your favourite translation and interpreting films! Or, alternatively, if you’re looking for the Nicole Kidmans and Amy Adams of translation services, contact us for a free quote or to find out more about our services!