Film Title Translation into French, a few Methods and Strategies





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I.1. Faithful translation



Examples:



Year


Original title


French title


Director(s)

1925

The Gold Rush

La ruée vers l'or

Charles Chaplin

1927

The Unknown

L’inconnu

Tod Browning

1929

Blackmail

Chantage

Alfred Hitchcock

1931

City Lights

Les lumières de la ville

Charles Chaplin

1933

Duck Soup

La soupe au canard

Leo McCarey

1935

The 39 Steps

Les trente-neuf marches

Alfred Hitchcock

1939

The Wizard of Oz

Le magicien d’Oz

Victor Fleming

1941

The Maltese Falcon

Le faucon maltais

John Huston

1946

The Big Sleep

Le grand sommeil

Howard Hanks

1950

Sunset Blvd.

Boulevard du crépuscule

Billy Wilder

1951

A Streetcar Named Desire

Un tramway nommé désir

Elia Kazan

1955

The Night of the Hunter

La nuit du chasseur

Charles Laughton

1956

The Man Who Knew Too Much

L’homme qui en savait trop

Alfred Hitchcock

1963

Charade

Charade

Stanley Donen

1963

The Birds

Les oiseaux

Alfred Hitchcock

1966

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Qui a peur de Virginia Woolf ?

Mike Nichols

1967

The Graduate

Le lauréat

Mike Nichols

1968

2001: A Space Odyssey

2001, l’odyssée de l’espace

Stanley Kubrick

1972

The Godfather

Le parrain

Francis Ford Coppola

1975

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Vol au-dessus d’un nid de coucou

Milos Forman

1983

Once Upon a Time in America

Il était une fois en Amérique

Sergio Leone

1985

Back to the Future

Retour vers le futur

Robert Zemeckis

1988

A Fish Called Wanda

Un poisson nommé Wanda

Charles Crichton

1989

Sex, Lies, and Videotape

Sexe, mensonges, et vidéo

Steven Soderbergh

1991

The Silence of the Lambs

Le silence des agneaux

Jonatan Demme

1993

Schindler’s List

La liste de Schindler

Steven Spielberg

1994

Four Weddings and a Funeral

Quatre mariages et un enterrement

Mike Newell

2001

The Others

Les autres

Alejandro Amenábar

2003

Intolerable Cruelty

Intolérable cruauté

Joel and Ethan Coen

2006

Letters from Iwo Jima

Lettres d’Iwo Jima

Clint Eastwood

2006

The Prestige

Le prestige

Christopher Nolan

2009

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

L'Imaginarium du Docteur Parnassus

Terry Gilliam



A faithful translation allows the same level of information, without any addition or deletion. The original title is translated literally into the French language. In each case the translation is obvious and simple. Moreover, one can notice that the French title keeps a good consonance and seems to be "natural" as far as the language level is concerned.

I will now proceed to the study of several titles.

  • La ruée vers l'or

The Equivalence method is used to translate The Gold Rush: the expression is translated by its idiomatic expression in the target language: La ruée vers l'or, a historical phenomenon that began in the nineteenth century in the United States.

  • Boulevard du crépuscule

This movie's title refers to a Californian boulevard in Los Angeles that connects Hollywood to the Pacific Ocean coast. It is famous for its connection with cinema. Nowadays, "Sunset Boulevard" is widely known around the world. Back in 1950, the French distributors chose to translate the street's name into French ("Sunset" becomes "crépuscule"). As a comparison criterion, countries such as Austria, Denmark and Sweden selected the original title: Sunset Boulevard.

  • Le lauréat

The Graduate can also be translated by "Le diplômé" which is closer to the original title's definition: "(UK) a person who has a first degree from a university or college" and "(US) a person who has finished their school, college or university education" (from the Cambridge dictionaries online1). In comparison, according to the Larousse dictionary, the definition of the term "lauréat" is: "Qui a remporté un prix dans un concours, réussi un examen"2.

Furthermore, we know that Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman) has just finished his undergraduate studies when he goes back to California in the beginning of the film. A COMPLETER

  • 2001, l’odyssée de l’espace

Kubrick's movie was based on The Sentinel, a short story written by Arthur C. Clarke (who also wrote the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey concurrently with the film). When filming, it had two working titles: How the Solar System Was Won and Journey Beyond the Stars which can be translated respectively as such: "Comment le système solaire fut conquis" (Transposition: "La conquète du système solaire") and "Voyage au delà des étoiles".

The word-for-word translation of the 1968 film is: "2001: Une odyssée de l'espace". The French title replaced the colon with a comma and the indefinite article with a definite article. The purpose of these changes could be the simplification and shortening of the original title. A COMPLETER

  • Vol au-dessus d’un nid de coucou

The word-for-word translation of Forman's film is: "On a survolé le nid du coucou" or "Quelqu'un a survolé le nid du coucou". The French translators used the Transposition translation method: they replaced the subject and the verb by a noun and an adverbial locution ("One flew over" became "Vol au-dessus de"). A COMPLETER

  • Retour vers le futur

Some alternative ways to translate Zemeckis' title could be "Retour dans le futur". Although here, the term "to" is well transposed in the official French title by "vers". It conveys the idea of moving and travelling from one point to another. Besides, the original French title is more fluent and more natural.

  • Intolérable cruauté

The French title keeps the English sentence and offers a Calque translation. This allows a comic effect produced by an English language well-known fact: the adjectives are placed before the nouns. I suggest two alternative translations using Transposition: "Cruauté intolérable" or "Une cruauté intolérable".

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