GFF Exclusive Review: Les Traducteurs (The Translators)

Year: 2020
Duration: 105 Minutes
Director: Régis Roinsard
Starring: Lambert Wilson, Alex Lawther, Olga Kurylenko, Riccardo Scamarcio

By Caz Armstrong

“The Translators” is a stylish thriller which lands somewhere been an Agatha Christie whodunit and a “Now You See Me” (2013) sleight of hand caper.

The twists and turns come thick and fast as we unravel the identity of the mysterious author Oscar Brach, and the source of the blackmail letter threatening to leak his latest manuscript and cause financial ruin.

Publisher Eric Angstrom (Lambert Wilson) brings nine translators to a remote high security manor house to translate a long awaited book – Dedalus Vol. III – from French into various other languages.

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Despite having some luxuries they are subjected to very strict rules about working hours and meal times and they are not allowed to leave for months.

All contact with the outside world is also prohibited. They are searched and scanned at the door and any means of communication is confiscated. The plot of the book is such a secret that they must translate only 20 pages at a time and they never have access to the full book.

“Where the film may be lacking is around the convoluted plot, the timeline of which jumps around. Even after attempting to summarise it for myself I’m still unclear as to what exactly happened when and why.”

So when Angstrom receives a blackmail note threatening to release full sections of the book the translators turn on each other to find the culprit and a thrilling whodunit (and howdunnit) ensues.

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The lead character Alex Goodman is brilliantly played by Alex Lawther who is accomplished at playing young, unhinged and on edge. His French is also impressive (to someone who doesn’t speak French). At the very least he had a huge number of lines to learn in another language and it brought to mind Alicia Vikander’s Japanese monologues in “Earthquake Bird” (2019).

“It’s a joy to see the exchange of languages and a love of words being such a focus on screen. It makes for a multicultural thriller about meaning and linguistics.”

The other characters all have very different personalities and styles, giving the film a theatrical caricatured feel. There’s a young one, a motherly one, a shaved-head-leather-jacket-woman one, a muscled one etc.

Despite their differences it can be a little hard to keep track of the sheer number of characters. As much as this fits with the “keep the audience marginally confused” aspect of a convoluted whodunit it might be a step too far for some.

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The linguistic element of the film is particularly interesting. They all speak French so much of the film was subtitled into English. But they also all speak at least one other language, sometimes multiple ones. In one particular crescendo scene these languages all tie together and translations and obfuscations tumble together as they attempt to pass information between them without tipping off the bad guys.

It’s a joy to see the exchange of languages and a love of words being such a focus on screen. It makes for a multicultural thriller about meaning and linguistics as well as the usual mystery and blackmail tropes.

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Where the film may be lacking is around the convoluted plot, the timeline of which jumps around. Even after attempting to summarise it for myself I’m still unclear as to what exactly happened when and why. But the film doesn’t suffer irreparably from these shifting plot cornerstones and as long as you’re not a stickler for this kind of thing you should still enjoy the ride.

There are certainly enough twists, turns and reveals to keep it an exciting thriller and Alex Lawther holds the whole thing together incredibly well.

4 stars

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