Thursday, January 25, 2018

Children of Paradise

Marcel Carné's Les Enfants du Paradis is a classic of French cinema, all the more remarkable for being filmed in 1945, when France had only recently been liberated and conditions across the country were bleak. The dialogue is mostly well-translated, but several examples can still easily be found that illustrate why an editor (particularly one who deeply understands both language and film) can be just as essential as a translator in creating perfect subtitles.

First the original, followed each time by suggested improvements.


In this scene, this unsavory character has just acknowledged with a kind of perverse pride what a "penny-pinching cheapskate" he's considered. At the end of his monologue, he doesn't actually say he is as "mean" as a rat. He uses the French word "avare," from which is derived the English word "avaricious."

The more accurate translation is: "because I'm stingy like a rat." ("Greedy" would also work.)


 "Don't say no," is perfectly understandable, but not quite the phrasing we would use in English.

  We would say: "Don't deny it."


This does not copy the phrasing of the original, which is posed as a question.  It is easy to read this almost as a direction, perhaps even an indirect order.

This is actually how he says it in French. Such a stark suggestion is far more sinister when asked so casually, almost as an afterthought.


The original French is literally, "If people who lived together would only love each other..."  This is not meant to refer to couples, but rather urges all people to treat each other more humanely.

This translation is truer to the spirit of what he is saying.  He also says "brillerait" in the original French, and using the English "brilliance" is more in keeping with a character who is a mime, and tends to speak poetically when he speaks at all.


She addresses him by name in the original, and the translator probably left it out because it interrupted the rhythm of the contrast between "hot-headed" and "cold-hearted." After making this observation, the character elaborates:

In French, the word for "draughts" (British spelling - we would write "drafts") is "courants d'air," literally, "air currents." This formulation conveys the contrast in his behavior in a way not captured by "drafts." We can fix it accordingly, while also "cheating" slightly by bringing his name to the title from where it was omitted in the previous one.

The use of his name is important because it makes her rejection of him both more personal and more diplomatic, as she finds a way to distance herself from this intemperate suitor by characterizing his mercurial moods as a mere style of personality. From her body language and forced smile, it's clear that she is trying to extricate herself both verbally and physically, and given the man, she has to be careful about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

What I Do

Nuance Titles is an LLC I have formed as the mechanism through which I solicit work as a writer and an editor. One of my st...