Film Review: The Translators – as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2020

[Content warning for the film: suicide]

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Régis Roinsard’s thriller The Translators (2019) brings together nine translators from different countries into a luxurious manor house owned by the wealthy publisher Eric Angstrom (Lambert Wilson). The translators’ mission is to translate the newest novel of a bestselling trilogy. A sense of tension is generated from the very start of the film, as the translators are locked into a high-security underground bunker, where they are expected to complete the project without any contact to the outside world. Their work is interrupted when they are blamed for the first few pages of the manuscript leaking. The needs of the translators are neglected and Armstrong humiliates them as he strives to unmask the thief responsible for the leakage. 

The film is sharp-sighted in its portrayal of a scenario in which a group of people from different backgrounds are forcibly confined to a restricted space together. As the characters are trapped in the bunker, their interactions convincingly portray the tensions that arise between them as they worry for their personal safety and survival. When asked about his sources of inspiration for the thriller, the director nodded towards John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club (1985), but also explains that his idea stems from real-life events; Dan Brown’s bestseller novel Inferno was translated simultaneously into multiple languages in an underground bunker in Northern Italy.

Roinsard’s film’s accumulation of suspense, its various plot twists, the skilful shifting between different timelines and even the film’s inclusion of the mandatory car chase make it a bit typical, but nonetheless successful as a thriller. However, whilst The Translators was praised by critics for its international cast consisting of actors of all ages, the diversity of this cast is questionable, as all characters except for the Chinese translator Yao (Frédéric Chau) are European and white, and Chau’s character lacks in depth and is arguably a mere prop. The film does not explore the relationships between the characters that spend a significant amount of time together in the bunker, which the multinational cast would have had the potential for. Most of the time, the film fails to develop its characters from their exposition, such as the Danish housewife Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who struggles to balance her life between motherhood and writing her debut novel or the Russian Katerina (Olga Kurylenko), who dresses up as the novel’s protagonist in an attempt to deepen her understanding of the literary work she feels so passionately about. The film fails to focus on its multitudinous cast, and most characters are left underdeveloped and unexplored. However, while the creation of character depth and character development are often desirable and something we often expect to see in films such as The Translators, the question arises whether this is a must when it comes to films with numerous twists and more complex, time-consuming plots.  Roinsard ties together a suspenseful thriller, but disappointingly enough The Translators lacks in diversity and depth in terms of its characters.

More information on the Glasgow Film Festival is available here: https://glasgowfilm.org/glasgow-film-festival.

[Kristiina Kangasluoma – she/her – @overthefrogwall]

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