Languages in the leading role

Laura Mangels
A.C.T. GmbH


Filme und Sprachen | Sprachen in der Hauptrolle | Filmsynchronisation | Filme synchronisieren | Filme übersetzen | Kino | Movies and languages | Movie synchronization | Synchronize movies | Movie translation | Movie localization | Cinema | Languages in the leading role | ACT

Movies combine language with moving images. And in some movies, language even plays the leading role. Our five movie recommendations are for people fascinated by languages and translation, who also understand the power of words and the even greater impact of misunderstandings.

Translation errors: “Lost in Translation” (2003)

“For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.” – Bob Harris

A movie based around a single misunderstanding. Bob, an ageing movie star, played by the unique Bill Murray, is hired to deliver a testimonial for a Japanese whiskey brand. The fee of one million US dollars makes Bob forget that he is actually rather grumpy and is really not in any state to travel to Japan to shoot the ad. At a Tokyo hotel bar, however, Bob strikes up an acquaintance with Charlotte, the young wife of a travel photographer. The two protagonists share the same problem: neither of them speaks a word of Japanese, and Japanese culture with its strict rules also feels quite alien to them. Just how problematic this all is becomes clear when the interpreter on the set only translates half of the director’s instructions, resulting in Bob unintentionally incurring the wrath of the Japanese hipster producer. He, in turn, only has a few words of English and repeatedly interrupts the filming with loud exclamations of “Cut do, Cut do!”

However, this is not the only misunderstanding that Bob as well as Charlotte suffer because of the language barrier in “Lost in Translation.” Throughout the movie, numerous misunderstandings, comic situations and increasing frustration compound the main characters’ feelings of alienation and isolation. However, this isolation also leads to something beautiful as a love affair unfolds between Bob and Charlotte, played by Scarlett Johansson. Naturally, it all comes to an end when Bob has to depart. “I don’t wanna leave,” says Bob to Charlotte. She answers: “So don’t! Stay here with me! We’ll start a jazz band.” The pain of parting could hardly be expressed more beautifully in words.

The language of aliens: “Arrival” (2016)

“If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?” – Louise Banks

While others struggle to understand French or Spanish, linguist Dr. Louise Banks in “Arrival” is faced with a far more complicated task: decrypting and translating an extraterrestrial language. An incorrect translation can quickly have serious repercussions and, at worst, lead to “Star Wars”...although that was a completely different movie. Even though we might not be able to comprehend this science fiction scenario, all of us can probably imagine the potential consequences of these misunderstandings. One dialog from the movie highlights the difficulties associated with linguistic nuances: “We don’t know if they understand the difference between a weapon and a tool.” If you want to find out whether the aliens understood the difference in the translation provided by Dr. Louise Banks, we can highly recommend watching this movie.

The world’s longest layover: “The Terminal” (2004)

“This is my home. No, no. No, I must go home.” – Viktor Navorski

You can be stranded in many locations. On tropical islands, in the last open bar in a city. However, there is probably nowhere you would be less happy to be stranded than in an airport. Many of us know what it’s like to spend four or five hours huddled on a bench because of a flight delay. Iranian citizen Mehran Karimi Nasseri also knew the feeling. Only better. That’s because he spent the period from August 1988 until August 2006 in the transit area of Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris due to bureaucratic obstacles he encountered on arrival in France. Yes, you read that right: he lived there.

The motion picture “The Terminal” is based on this unbelievable story. In the movie, Nasseri is called Viktor Navorski, and is played by Tom Hanks. In the beginning, Navorski barely speaks any English, which also extends his stay in the airport: When a member of the airport staff tries to explain that he can apply for asylum simply by declaring that he is afraid to return to his native country, Navorski has no clue what is happening. As time passes and despite his poor language skills, he must learn to survive in the airport by explaining to the staff there—sometimes via nonverbal communication—what he wants.

It’s all Greek (or Latin American) to me: “Spanglish” (2004)

“You need to do something with your life, you need to get out of the street, stop bein’ a gangsta, you have a child now, you need to be a father.” Flor Moreno

The main theme of the movie “Spanglish” is the linguistic chaos that ensues between an American family and their Mexican housekeeper. While the housekeeper Flor communicates mainly in Spanish, the Clasky family, especially the mother Deborah, speaks almost exclusively English. As we have seen from the other movies in this list, this one also focuses on misunderstandings that have far-reaching consequences. The movie sets out to portray the real challenges faced by immigrants living in a foreign country. And who bears the brunt of this chaos? Flor’s daughter Christina, who more or less intentionally finds herself acting as the link between these two worlds. Naturally, this movie also contains a hidden metaphor: how language functions as a bridge between cultures and generations.

Murder in translation: “The Interpreter” (2005)

“Silencio es muerte. Silence is death.” – Silvia Broome

It’s a complete coincidence. Two men in a semi-darkened room whisper to one another in a rarely spoken language. By chance, a young woman overhears what the men are discussing. In a language she has known since her childhood. A language that is familiar to her. However, it’s clear that these two men are up to no good. It is the start of a conspiracy. This is what befalls Silvia Broome, played by Nicole Kidman, in the movie “The Interpreter.” Broome, an interpreter at the United Nations in New York, becomes entangled in a plot to assassinate the corrupt head of state of her home country, Matobo. Veteran director Sydney Pollack creates a sense of confusion in which languages, their ambiguity, specific cultural codes and influences and the challenges of diplomacy form the context.

One of the characters in the movie says the following, for example: “The gunfire around us makes it hard to hear. But the human voice is different from other sounds. It can be heard over noises that bury everything else. Even when it’s not shouting. Even when it’s just a whisper. Even the lowest whisper can be heard over armies when it’s telling the truth.” The power of understanding, compressed into an action-packed thriller, makes this a must-see for all language junkies.

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Filme und Sprachen | Sprachen in der Hauptrolle | Filmsynchronisation | Filme synchronisieren | Filme übersetzen | Kino | Movies and languages | Movie synchronization | Synchronize movies | Movie translation | Movie localization | Cinema | Languages in the leading role | ACT

Languages in the leading role

Film ist Sprache in bewegten Bildern. Und bei manchen Filmen ist die Sprache in der Hauptrolle. Unsere fünf Filmempfehlungen für

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