Régis Roinsard (director)
26 March 2021 (released)
25 March 2021
For The Translators to work you really need to know just the bare basics of the plot. Therefore all I’m going to say is that mega-selling literary phenomenon Oscar Brach has a new book ready to publish. It’s the final part of the Dedalus trilogy written in French. The publication is in the hands of Eric Angstrom (Lambert Wilson) and is expecting a huge payday and world-wide publicity. The book is to be launched simultaneously in all territories which naturally requires a massive translation effort.
The film opens with the nine translators converging from all over the globe to a complex where they will be locked up for the duration. Asked to sit at desks set out like a schoolroom, they only receive a few papers of text at a time and there are tight restrictions on their time, they are also under armed guard.
Clearly it’s all down to prevention of leaks, which could obviously devastate the sales. It comes as no surprise that there is a leak and, on a threat to release the book in its entirety unless a ransom is paid. Where, how and who are the first questions and by no means the last.
To be honest what then transpires is not exactly original. It’s just done with such panache that one can look past its very tiny foibles, sit back and enjoy it. As publisher (jailer) Angstrom is looking to find out where the leak came from. The translators not exactly in competition but with egos to tend and reputations to protect are keen to find out who has let them, and their profession down.
As they spiral into paranoia and violence so the plot starts to unwind, sides are taken with them as personal and professional issue emerge.
For a film that is so precise in its direction, setting, and use of language, there’s a surprising warmth about the direction from Régis Roinsard and the treatment of the players. Wilson as the megalomaniac publisher is just monstrous though keeps the urge to tear up the scenery in check. Otherwise it’s an ensemble performance with the characters each getting a fair amount of development, although the balance changes as the film progresses (and for the sake of the plot I’ll go no further).
There are several key scenes that play this out when the are on the Metro and a remarkable one when the translators are threatened they use their formidable linguistic skills to communicate between them.
Those are highly technical sequences that show off the directing, editing and writing. It’s with the latter that the film really flares with the three writers Romain Compinet, Daniel Presley and Régis Roinard indulging in language and the love of languages.
This is something in the tradition of Agatha Christie period pieces of years back featuring Peter Ustinov, and the recent Knives Out. However it has nothing of the musty tea and gin and tonic approach of the former, leaning more towards the slick dynamics of the latter. Neither of the aforementioned however come anywhere near this for its sheer rapier accuracy, speed, narrative, plot and wit.
The Translators is playing for 48 hours 26 and 27 March as part of the Online French Film Festival