Film Title Translation into French, a few Methods and Strategies

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titreFilm Title Translation into French, a few Methods and Strategies
date de publication08.11.2017
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I.3. Alternative titles

In each case, the selected title marks a detachment from the original title. Some information is replaced (some is lost and some added) for a title that differs partially or even completely. Alternative titles are often inspired by the plot (diegetic information), or often summarizes the film or its main theme. In my view, these choices are rarely judicious. There are some reasons behind these changes: the will to create a catchy title for the French target audience, and simplification.

I will suggest several different title choices, always beginning with the most obvious one: literal translation. This title has, de facto, a stronger link with the original title; it is consequently more legitimate regarding the film. In each case that will follow, the literal translated title will be my first choice. However, other plausible selections exist, and that is why I also selected some alternative titles that I will comment on a case by case basis.

I.3.1. Alfred Hitchcock’s films:


Original title

French title


The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog




Agent secret


Secret Agent

Quatre de l'espionnage



La cinquième colonne



La maison du docteur Edwardes



Les enchainés


Strangers on a Train

L'inconnu du Nord-Express


I Confess

La loi du silence


Dial M for Murder

Le crime était presque parfait


Four O'Clock (series premiere of NBC's Suspicion)

Pris au piège



Sueurs froides


North by Northwest

La mort aux trousses




The following consists of a study of some Hitchcock's titles:

  • L'éventreur (The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog)

It was inspired by Marie Belloc Lowndes' novel The Lodger (1913). This story is based on Jack the Ripper, who committed a series of murder in London in 1888. This explains why the French title is named "L'éventreur". As it reveals some essential information about the contents of the film, and both Marie Belloc Lowndes and Hitchcock chose not to reveal that this story was about a ripper, I think the French title should have followed this lead.

Title suggestions:

• "Le pensionnaire: une histoire du brouillard Londonien"

• "Le pensionnaire"

• "Meurtres dans le brouillard Londonien"

As Hitchcock's original title was The Lodger: A story of the London Fog, and Belloc Lowndes' was The Lodger, I consider these choices to be legitimate. As opposed to my second suggestion, my last title does not revolve around the main protagonist but around the mysterious events and also the place and the atmosphere of the story.

  • Agent secret (Sabotage) and Quatre de l'espionnage (Secret Agent)

Sabotage is translated by Agent secret (from Joseph Conrad's eponymous novel). The following film (Secret Agent) had to get a different French name: Quatre de l'espionnage was chosen. Because of the number "four" that appears in the title, the number of spies that are in Switzerland is revealed. In my opinion, this spoils the plot and the final denouement.

Titles suggestions for Secret Agent

• "Agent secret"

• "Ashenden : agent secret" (or "L'agent secret Ashenden")

• "Espionnage" (or "Espion")

In the first place, my title is inspired by the novel from which the movie is based on (Ashenden, written by W. Somerset Maugham) and by the original title to create a new French title focused on the plot's hero. In the second place, I suggest an alternative title that is less specific than the French one and that has an explicit link with the original title - it goes along with the spy film genre. Translation: "Ashenden: Secret Agent" ("Secret Agent Ashenden"); "Espionage" ("Spy").

Titles suggestions for Sabotage:

• "Sabotage"

• "Espion et sabotage"

• "Sabotage : une histoire d'espion"

This movie is the adaptation for the screen of Joseph Conrad's novel The Secret Agent (1907), but as Hitchcock had already chosen this title for his second movie to come of the same year (1936), he had to change it. This explains the French distributors' choice. I suggest an alternative title that combines the main idea of the novel's title and preserve the original title of the movie. Translation: "Spy and Sabotage"; "Sabotage: a Spy's Story".

  • La cinquième colonne (Saboteur)

In France, Saboteur's title consisted of a common phrase - La cinquième colonne, which refers to partisans that live in a different state that they support.

Titles suggestions:

• "Saboteur"

• "Qui est le saboteur ?"

• "A la recherche du saboteur"

My suggestions are directly inspired from the film's diegetic. It reveals some of the plot but it adds a connotation of detection that can turn out to be intriguing (Etoffement).

  • Pris au piège (Four O'Clock)

Four O'Clock has a specific connotation, since the hero is a clockmaker (unfortunately, this information is lost in the French title). Besides, something is supposed to happen at this precise time.

Titles suggestions:

• "A quatre heure"

• "Quatre heure pile"

• "Les quatre coups de l'horloge"

When translating literally into French, the "clock" term that remains in the expression "O'Clock" is lost. In my last suggestion, I chose to reinsert this idea adapting the expression "les douzes coups de minuit" by substituting "horloge" with "minuit" since the time is indicated by the number of strokes (Equivalence and Substitution).

  • Sueurs froides (Vertigo)

Vertigo deals about the detective John 'Scottie' Ferguson (James Stewart) who suffers from a phobia: the pathological fear of heights, also known as Acrophobia. The French title does not take this information into account and has a more general denotation: fear.

It is also worth noticing that Hitchcock's film was based on a novel entitled D'entre les morts written by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac and the working title of the movie was From Among the Dead. This title characterizes Kim Novak's role. In the eventuality that the title "Vertige" (or "Vertiges") was refused due to a high number of homonyms, I think that the French novel's title would have been more suitable.

Titles suggestions:

• "Vertige" (or "Vertiges")

• "D'entre les morts"

• "Enquête vertigineuse"

Regarding this film, I think that no other title suits better than the literal translation. It is simple and very close to the original one (both its spelling and sound). I suggest nonetheless some alternative titles that are, in my opinion, more relevant than the selected French title back in 1958. The last title is simply a reformulation of the original title's meaning with the addition of the detective story connotation "Enquête". It is, de facto, more specific and thus, it gives more importance to the film's genre.

I.3.2. Other examples:


Original title

French title



The Thin Man


W. S. Van Dyke


Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

L’extravagant M. Deeds

Frank Capra


Bringing Up Baby

L’impossible M. Bébé

Howard Hawks



La chevauchée fantastique

John Ford


The Philadelphia Story


George Cukor


Stormy Weather

Symphonie magique

Andrew L. Stone


Double Indemnity

Assurance sur la mort

Billy Wilder


To Have and Have Not

Le port de l’angoisse

Howard Hawks


The Lost Weekend

Le poison

Billy Wilder


On the Town

Un jour à New York

Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly


High Noon

Le train sifflera trois fois

Fred Zinnemann


The Searchers

La prisonnière du désert

John Ford


Touch of Evil

La soif du mal

Orson Welles


To Kill a Mockingbird

Du silence et des ombres

Robert Mulligan


The Nutty Professor

Docteur Jerry et Mister Love

Jerry Lewis


Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Docteur Folamour

Stanley Kubrick


Midnight Cowboy

Macadam cow-boy

John Schlesinger


Dirty Harry

L’inspecteur Harry

Don Siegel


Blazing Saddles

Le shérif est en prison

Mel Brooks


The Deer Hunter

Voyage au bout de l’enfer

Michael Cimino


Being there

Bienvenue Mister Chance

Hal Ashby


The Fox and the Hound

Rox et Rouky

Ted Berman, Richard Rich, Art Stevens


A Nightmare on Elm Street

Les griffes de la nuit

Wes Craven


A Passage to India

La route des Indes

David Lean


Die Hard

Piège de cristal

John McTiernan


Carlito's Way


Brian De Palma


Shallow Grave

Petits meurtres entre amis

Danny Boyle


The Hudsucker Proxy

Le grand saut

Joel and Ethan Coen


The Shawshank Redemption

Les évadés

Frank Darabont


The Crucible

Les sorcières de Salem

Nicholas Hytner


Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels

Arnaques, crimes et botanique

Guy Richie


Three Kings

Les rois du désert

David O. Russell


Monster's Ball

A l’ombre de la haine

Marc Forster


50 First Dates

Amour et amnésie

Peter Segal


The Departed

Les infiltrés

Martin Scorsese


Stranger Than Fiction

L'incroyable destin de Harold Crick

Marc Forster


Revolutionary Road

Les noces rebelles

Sam Mendes


Seven Pounds

Sept vies

Gabriele Muccino


The Brothers Bloom

Une arnaque presque parfaite

Rian Johnson


(500) Days of Summer

500 jours ensemble

Marc Webb


Where the Wild Things Are

Max et les Maximonstres

Spike Jonze


How to Train Your Dragon


Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders

Similarly to Hitchcock's films, the original title is partially or in some cases completely different when adapted for France. Symphonie magique emphasizes the fact that it is a musical (genre). Rox Et Rouky differs also from the novel's title from which it was based on: The Fox And The Hound by Daniel Pratt Mannix; Same thing for Les évadés inspired from Stephen King's short story: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (1982) which benefited from a literal translation in France. As to The Crucible, the adaptation of Arthur Miller's play (1953), the original French play's title was chosen for the film as well: Les sorcières de Salem.

In many cases, the French title gives away too much information about the diegetic. Petits meurtres entre amis, even if the title keeps the death connotation (Grave), it displays more information than Danny Boyle's original title.

The same point occurs when considering Le grand saut, which deals about a jump from the top of a building. Amour et amnésie as well, in which the character played by Drew Barrymore suffers from amnesia (also, the comic effect present in the original title is lost).

Here is a study of some titles:

- Rox et Rouky (The Fox And The Hound)

• "Le renard et le chien"

• "Le renard et le chien de chasse"

The English title is faithful to the novel from which it is based on. When it was in production, its working title was Tod & Copper which are the names of the two main characters. This title was transposed into French (Rox et Rouky). Even if this movie is intended for a young audience, I think that to preserve the opposition between the two animals works well (emphasized by the addition of "de chasse"). Moreover, this title may recall many titles from Jean de La Fontaine's Fables.

- Petits meurtres entre amis (Shallow Grave)

• "Une tombe pas assez profonde"

• "Une tombe peu profonde"

• "Une tombe qui manque de profondeur"

I selected these titles to be the closest possible to the original one. By doing so, the reference to the film's line is kept as well as the same humorous effect (thanks to different modulations).

- Le grand saut (The Hudsucker Proxy)

• "Le remplaçant d'Hudsucker"

• "PDG par procuration"

• "Le PDG de substitution"

• "A la tête d'Hudsucker : ça tombe sur lui"

The term Proxy conveys the idea of substitution and procuration, and Hudsucker is the name of the former CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of the business and thus, the business' name as well. I included a play on words in the fourth suggestion that tries to combine the two titles into one (thanks to juxtaposition).

- Les évadés (The Shawshank Redemption)

• "La rédemption de Shawshank"

• "Rédemption à la prison Shawshank"

First, let us note that, for Darabont's original title, Stephen King's short story's title is truncated. However, the essential is preserved. Yet, the key term "Redemption" does not appear in the French title. I selected two titles that are closer to the original titles (both the short story and the film), and I added a precision on the word "Shawshank": it is a place and more precisely a jail. (Etoffement).

By definition, it is impossible to translate the full meaning of a language into another. Consequently, the closer a title is to the original one, the better it is. Thanks to Education and Globalization notably, the French people has more and more connection with the English language (cinema, series, music, internet, etc...).

Shortly after WWII, more and more American movies are progressively released in the French Republic. The "aura" of the United States of America over the world is becoming particularly important in the seventh art. These are some of the reasons why more and more English titles appear in the French film theatres.

CHAPTER II. English titles

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