The Connexion team has been looking at film titles whose French translations differ from the English original after being puzzled trying to match some French films to their British and American counterparts.
France’s seeming penchant for bizarre translations was also mentioned by French actor and director Alexandre Astier.
“I am very angry at French translations of foreign movies. Look at Groundhog Day.
“Apparently, we are so stupid in France that we need it to be explained that it’s an endless day and it ends up being Un jour sans fin,” he said during an interview with Kombin (24’49 in the video).
France is not legally required to translate English film titles into French, unlike in Quebec (Canada).
Our list below reflects 10 movies and regular themes where the French translations shifted away from the original titles.
Have you ever been puzzled by a film title in French compared to its British or American title? Tell us titles you have seen at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. France brings sex into everything
References to sex are a favourite of French producers, particularly as American producers seem, on the other hand, to be very careful when employing the word.
Perhaps having ‘sex’ in a title would result in a more adult rating in the US, hence producers being reluctant to go down that route, especially considering that this type of movie is normally a romantic comedy or family-oriented.
Michael Maren’s 2013 comedy-drama A Short History of Decay became Sexy Therapy in France, teen comedy Fired Up became Sea, Sex & Sun. Then Not Another Teen Movie switched to Sex Academy, Wild Things changed to Sex Crimes: the list is endless.
One of Steven Spielberg’s most famous movies, Jaws was translated into Les Dents de la Mer (Teeth of the Sea) in French.
While the translation makes sense to French people, it became difficult when producers went on releasing other versions following the massive success across international theatres.
While American producers played safe with Jaws 2, 3 and 4, French translators went Les Dents de la Mer, 2ème partie (Teeth of the Sea, Second Act) instead of Les Dents de la Mer 2.
It was because Les Dents de la Mer 2 would have read ‘Les Dents de la Mer deux’, which is very close to ‘Les Dents de la Merde’ (Teeth of Sh**.)
3. Me, Myself and I
While not one of Jim Carrey’s best known performances, Me, Myself and I tells the story of a schizophrenic character that falls in love with Irene (Irène in French) played by Renée Zellweger.
The English title wittily plays on the idea of the multiple sides to the protagonist’s personality aspects, but the French translation Fous d’Irène (Crazy about Irène) does not capture this.
The plural in -s on ‘Fous’ does not help either as it suggests many characters could be attracted by Irene. Maybe, that was the pun intended but it’s too subtle.
4. The Boat That Rocked
While The Boat That Rocked sailed with the title Pirate Radio in American cinemas, the French went with Good Morning England.
It could be a reference to Good Morning, Vietnam, a movie involving a radio presenter in Vietnam that was entitled…Good Morning, Vietnam in France.
5. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Guy Ritchie’s earliest works are a killer for French translators since movies involve a lot of different dialectal phrases, technical words and slang. His first film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was translated by Arnaques, Crimes et Botanique (Scams, Crimes and Botanics.)
The lesson must have been learned since the French translation from its second movie Snatch was kept as Snatch.
Needless to say it is very hard to watch the movie in French after having heard Brad Pitt’s Irish accent.
6. Groundhog Day
Groundhog Day was translated to Un Jour sans fin (An Endless Day) in French, as mentioned by Mr Astier above.
“When you think about this, it means that French translators suggest to original authors that they have to explain the whole plot to French people and give away the machinery and the essence behind the movie,” said Mr Astier.
“What is the problem with calling it ‘Le jour de la marmotte?’” he added.
7. Despicable Me
The French translation of Despicable Me is not far from the English. However, France stressed the main character Gru’s ugliness with Moi, moche et méchant (I, Ugly And Mean.)
Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, meanwhile, was translated exactly as its British version by Moi, Daniel Blake.
8. France loves to be ‘very bad’
France loves to use the words ‘very bad’ and ‘very big’.
An obvious example of this comes from The Hangover, which got translated as Very Bad Trip, and not as the French equivalent of ‘hangover’ (‘gueule de bois’).
From there, French translators had unleashed the kraken.
Napapiirin Sankarit, a Finnish film was translated to Lapland Odyssey in English, was called Very Cold Trip in France.
The Other Guys became Very Bad Cops and Daddy’s Home got Very Bad Dad.
It seems that The Hangover’s success helped with marketing earlier, lesser known movies from actors in the series, such as Zack Galifianakis, whose dark comedy Visioneers was translated to Very Big Stress in France.
9. Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook is almost impossible to translate into French, as the optimism of the expression ‘silver lining’ has no direct equivalent in France. There is also no word for ‘playbook’.
France came up with Happiness Therapy, a distant translation of the movie and its themes.
10. The Shawshank Redemption
IMDB’s top-rated film The Shawshank Redemption was translated to Les Evadés (The Escaped) which gives away that the characters will find a way to get away from their environment.