Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Do you like Der Zorn Gottes?

I was interviewing Michael Haneke the other day (as you do) and, for more than one reason, I began to feel like a bit of a moron. Obviously, most people would feel somewhat dim when sitting opposite the director of …

Wed, Nov 11, 2009, 22:03


I was interviewing Michael Haneke the other day (as you do) and, for more than one reason, I began to feel like a bit of a moron. Obviously, most people would feel somewhat dim when sitting opposite the director of The Piano Teacher, Funny Games and this week’s first-class The White Ribbon. But I’m getting at something very particular. Every time I mentioned Hidden, his peerless philosophical thriller from 2005, the translator would, while speaking in German, refer to it as “Caché”. Now, I am, of course, aware that this was the film’s original name, but, when talking in English, it is surely proper to use the title that appeared on the English-language poster. Nonetheless, I felt a slight (undoubtedly unintentional) rebuke with each translation. “Ha, ha, this monoglotal bog-trotter can’t even manage one word of French,” the charming translator almost certainly didn’t think.


Hey Deathso, after the game why don’t we go and see that Det sjunde inseglet?

Never mind that. Here’s the issue I’m getting at. When do we translate film titles and when not? German is a language most Anglophones find reasonably unthreatening (at least in terms of vocabulary), yet almost all German films have  their titles translated when playing overseas. Werner Herzog‘s Aguirre, Wrath of God never appears as Aguirre, Der Zorn Gottes in the pages of The Irish Times or Sight and Sound. Die Blechtrommel is always The Tin Drum. And so on.

By way of contrast, Japanese is, for us, a much more difficult language. Yet films from that country are very often presented with their titles unmolested.  Rashomon is always Rashomon. Yojimbo is Yojimbo. True, Tokyo Monogatari often becomes Tokyo Story, but Mizoguchi’s timeless Ugetsu Monogatari is usually, well, Ugetsu Monogatari.

I was in a conversation with an American once who thought me a half-wit because I hadn’t heard of a hot Danish film called “The Celebration”. I ended up looking like a pretentious wazzock instead when I eventually said: “Oh you mean Festen.” It looked as if I expected every one I met to speak fluent Danish. As it happens, the title of Thomas Vinterberg’s contemporary classic was translated for the American market, but not for the British or Irish.

The more you think about it the odder it gets. You would seem up-yourself if you started talking about Les Vacances de M Hulot. (Unless, of course, you were French. In which case there would be never be any chance of you behaving pretentiously.) Yet you’d look like a cretin — or at least weird — if you referred to Federico Fellini’s most famous film as The Sweet Life.

I’m sure nobody else cares, but these anomolies have always bothered me. Anyway, spare a thought for Herr Haneke when he does the Mexican junket. Apparently Hidden is called “El observador oculto” in that part of the world. Cool! Now that doesn’t sound like something in which you’d  expect to encounter Daniel Auteuil. Danielo del Diablo, perhaps. But not M Auteuil.

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