The Translators (Les traducteurs)

Maybe its because there isn’t much out in theatres at the moment, but recently I’ve been taking it almost personally if I get excited about a film and then it fails to deliver. I told quite a few of my friends and my family that I was planning on seeing Regis Roinsard’s French thriller “The Translators” because it really is a sensational premise and the trailer was brilliantly executed. So when I left the cinema having just seen what was essentially the type of D-grade film you’d expect to see on Lifetime with a few cheap twists, I was plain pissed off.

Like I said, the premise for this film is a beauty; in anticipation of the release of the final instalment of the worldwide literary phenomenon “Dedalus”, the head of Angstrom Publishing, Éric Angstrom (Lambert Wilson) recruits nine translators to translate the widely anticipated novel. For the next few months, the translators live and work in the bunker of an austere French castle owned by a Russian oligarch and translate the book into their own language. They are cut off from the rest of the world, have no access to any phones or internet to guarantee the secrecy of the story, but soon the first ten pages are released to the internet, alongside an email from an anonymous blackmailer to Angstrom threatening to release the entire book unless they receive €80 million. The thing is, the only people with access to the novel have been locked in a bunker with no internet or contact with the outside world. The translators are pinned against each other as Angstrom delivers ultimatums of increasing severity to find out who is behind the leak.

In concept, the film more or less becomes a typical “whodunnit”, Agatha Christie-esque style of story, but instead of trying to weasel out the murderer, we’re trying to find out the leaker of the book. The difference between “The Interpreters” and something like Christie’s “Death on the Nile” is that Agatha Christie never relied purely on the twists in her stories to make them work. She was a master at fleshing out fully formed characters who each are integral to the plot, each with just motive and each of whom could have reasonably been the eventual culprit. In “The Interpreters”, I would say maybe three of the characters are given any kind of back story, the rest are just background extras with no purpose at all. I was waiting for each of the translators to be assigned motives; perhaps one could have been cheated out of the publishing industry and was seeking revenge, perhaps another could have come up with the idea of the story and was furious that someone else was profiting from it. Fairly soon, instead of trying to guess which of the nine suspects are guilty, the list is whittled down to about four because none of the others are given any screen time.

The opening scenes were admittedly promising and the premise was well set up, but once the primary action of the film began, it became pretty evident that the whole thing wasn’t going to track well. When a Christie plot twist is revealed, the audience or reader tends to be amazed at its ingenuity and we often kick ourselves for not spotting the clues along the way. I’m not going to spoil the twists in “The Translators”, but they’re cop outs. They’re absolutely not consistent with the rest of the film and expose gaping plot holes so instead of marvelling at the eventual reveal, I found myself rolling my eyes instead and again feeling duped and mislead by my own excitement at what the film was going to be.

It annoys me that the filmmakers behind this probably think they’ve contributed to something unique and edgy. “The Translators” doesn’t deserve the hype it’s received, and since my trips to the cinema at the moment are limited, to waste one on a film as blatantly average as this seemed a shame.

By Jock Lehman

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