Translators are rarely given credit for their work so generally live in a world of relative anonymity. Yet where would we be without their prized skills? Whole worlds of literature and film would be lost to readers and cinema goers. One of the accolades given to best-selling books is the numbers of languages they’ve been translated into.
In this 2018 thriller/whodunnit from director Régis Roinsard, we enter the world of the publishing house of the best-selling but elusive author Oscar Brach, when the worldwide publication of the final part of his trilogy, Dedalus, is anticipated. To ensure the simultaneous worldwide publication, nine translators from across the globe are flown in to Paris to translate from the French to their mother tongue in the quite bizarre environment of a customised bunker in a Russian owned stately home.
The opening scenes of this slick and clever film shows the diverse characters arrive in Paris from their various parts of the world – Portugal, China, Denmark, England, Greece, Italy, Spain, Germany and Ukraine. When they arrive at the Manoir de Villette, they are greeted by the head of the publishing house Eric Angstrom (Lambert Wilson) whose perfectly captured smooth but hard-eyed welcome is a Janus image of that of the overtly menacing Russian guards who confiscate all the new guests’ technological devices.
As they settle in to their new home for the duration of their allocated work, enjoying being served with quality food and drink that could compensate for their imposed restrictions, the various personalities emerge. From Telma Alves the lippy punk from Portugal (Maria Leite) to the wife, Mum and hopeful writer Helene Tuxen (Sidse Babett Knudsen of Borgen fame) to the cynical Greek Konstantinos Kadrinos (Manolis Mavromatakis), the film star Katerina Anisinova (Olga Kurylenko) who has played in a film version of the book and the skateboarding, sleepy headed slacker Alex Goodman (Alex Lawther), their diversity is evident but the common factor is their shared fluency in French.
Just when they are trying to settle to their strange environment and adjust to their weird workplace, a text message to Angstrom throws a grenade into the normally quiet world of the translators. The text, saying “The first 10 pages of Dedalus III are no longer yours”, claims that part of this prestigious novel has been stolen and unless a high ransom is paid, even more of it will be revealed. The as yet unpublished work takes on the status of a beloved child of a mega-rich parent as any shallow pretence of humanity by Angstrom is immediately shed and replaced with utter ruthlessness.
This intriguing and gripping film, that is like Agatha Christie draped in a French flag, also serves as an exposé of the duality of the art world with the business one. Music from Jun Miyake adds to its atmosphere but the old Bacharach-David song, What the World Needs Now is Love, plays an important role too.
There is a darkly amusing scene when things reach a pitch as everyone is under suspicion and the translators try to outdo one another in a linguistic battle of one-upmanship even as punches are being thrown. Always the sign of good writing that humour finds its way in to the most serious of dramas.