If you hear a French person talking about "Happiness Therapy" and the plot seems familiar, there's a good reason for it. See, in France, instead of translating movie titles in French, it's not uncommon for translators to give movies an English title different from the original one. Needless to say sometimes people have no idea the title they are seeing in English is not even the original one.
There are several factors behind this phenomenon:
- Some English expressions just don't quite translate literally into French. "Silver Lining" is hard to fit into two or three audience-friendly words in French.
- Anglicisms and English expressions have permeated a lot of daily conversation. This might explain why these strange non-translations have become more common in recent years.
- English expressions are more widely tolerated than in French Canada. At least in publicly displayed posters and materials. This ties in with our previous post "localization: more than fancy lingo for "translation"?"
- You can simplify the title while explaining the plot. Maybe that's a marketing choice, as a way to market foreign movies to a French audience.
- Sex, and American movies sell. So if you can do both by writing "sex" in the movie title, that's probably another marketing choice. A little on the nose but you can't blame the titles for not being straightforward!
Our French translators have gathered a few of these "translations" here:
#1 All Good things
The English title alludes to the saying "all good things come to an end." The translators wanted to avoid confusion with people not knowing the full saying and understanding that only good things would happen. "Love and secrets" is a good compromise. Plus, "love" seems to sound less cheesy than the translated "amour".
#2 Camp X-Ray
Here the choice was pretty clear. The word "camp" is ok but "x-ray" is just too obscure to keep in English. "Guard" has a French origin and is easily understood. Plus it's set in an American detention facility, so the choice to keep the title in English hints at that.
#3 Bring It On
The likeliness of French audiences understanding the expression "bring it on" was low. Translators chose "American Girls", probably because cheerleading is viewed as being typically American in France.
#4 Pitch Perfect
A "hit" has the same meaning in French as in English. It's used in radio on TV, people hear it all the time in France. "Pitch" is used, but in business, as a synonym of presentation.
#5 Date Night
Explaining what a "date" is in French is always a bit tricky and the concept of "date night" in married couples is not that common in France (people still do it, they just don't call it "date night"). A crazy night however... well, that's just what the movie is about, isn't it?
#6 Holy Rollers
The link with "high-rollers" and religion was a hard one to make. However, the French connection was a real network of drug traffickers. They kept their English name even in France. Change "French" for "Jewish" and French audiences will have no trouble understanding the movie's premise.
#7 What's your number?
Here we go. (S)ex list. This is the first of a long list of French titles using "sex" in English. The double meaning of "number" couldn't be translated too well so they went with (S)ex for "Sex" and "ex". Pretty good.
#8 School of Rock
Ever since "Police Academy", the word "academy" has become prevalent in France. It's used to describe any place of training and schooling almost indiscriminately. Here's one of many movie titles that use "Academy" in their French version. I guess it's marginally easier than "school of".
#9-10 Step up 1 and 2
Neither a dance step nor the expression "stepping up" is common in France. Unless you study English, you might not get either meaning. Sexy people dancing though, well, that's something everyone undestands. "Sexy Dance" kind of reminds of "Dirty Dancing", another title that kept its English name in France. Maybe translators thought the English rolled better on the tongue than "Danse sexy". Or maybe it was easier to market.
Strangely enough, the English word "Gamer" is also used in French. The thing is, it has a strong association with video games and online gaming. Given the plot of the movie (which we won't reveal here, don't worry,) the French localization makes sense. After all, Gerard Butler is not acting as a teenager playing Dota)
#12 Not another teen movie
We talked about "Sex" and we talked about "Academy". Well this translation is a twofer. Actually, the negation "not" is often complicated to translate when you have a character limit. Now if you're going to stray from the original title so much, why not translate it too? Maybe the translation team felt it was too direct. Or too cheesy. Sometimes things sound better in English because people are used to it. And again, sex sells.
#13 The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
French people seem ok with English titles, but not if they are too long. Maybe the localization team thought they would tune out and it would go over their heads. Who knows. Interestingly, the final translation (translation into English, that is) reveals more about the setting than the original one.
If you're an American teenager like in this movie, then a trip to Europe will bring images of wildly different cultures, adventures, and discovery. If you're from France, you're already in Europe. Taking a "Eurotrip" would be just a trip. A "Sex Trip", in this case, so you're not confused about the kind of movie you're about to watch. But still, "trip" is a word often used in French (as in "triper" which means "tripping" or "bad trip"). So you could say there's a pun in this title.
#15 The Hangover
Speaking of tripping, here's another "translation" that uses the double-meaning behind "trip". These guys had a bad trip to Vegas and a bad trip in Vegas. Plus "Very bad trip" is just a lot easier to understand than "hangover" if you're French and have never heard this word.
#16-17 The Fighter and The Aviator
The same thing happened to these two titles. The translators decided to drop the article. Other than that, not much changes. "Fighter" is sometimes used in English and "Aviator" sounds very similar to the French word "aviateur", so no one would get confused here. A theory might be that the dental sound "th" is challenging for French speakers. Dropping "the" would make it easier to talk about the movies on TV and radio without having people focusing on bad pronunciation (but probably keeping the English for easier marketing).
A trainwreck is a situation that goes downhill fast. Which is what the movie is about. It's also neither easily understood by French audiences, nor easily translated into French. So the translators went for "Crazy Amy". Probably to use Amy Schumer's notoriety, and because everyone understands what "crazy" means. Poor Amy though.
#19 Knight and Day
Knight, knife, know, knee... Words starting with a silent "k" can be tricky for French students. On top of that, what's a "knight"? Better replace it with "night". It's a safe bet that people will understand "night and day" better. "Nuit et jour", the French translation, was not taken though.
#20 In Time
Sometimes it's okay to disagree with a translat... ahem, with the localization of a title, since it's technically still English. I understand why it was done this way though. "In time" doesn't really speak to everyone who speaks French, and "out" can be understood as "out of time". But to people who speak English (or to anyone playing volleyball, basketball, handball... a lot of people really) a "time out" is not exactly what the movie is about. In fact, if you've seen it, it's quite the opposite.
#21 American Hustle
While the concept of "hustling" and "hustle" is not widely used in France (at least not the English word), bluffing and bluff entered French vocabulary a long time ago. Add to that that part of the movie does take place in a casino, and you've got a good title.
#22 Up In The Air
Having two prepositions in a row was not the most user-friendly title for non-speakers. The localization team simplified it. We lost a bit of the double meaning in the original title, but the spirit is still there.
#23 Silver Linings Playbook
Let's finish this post where we started. Here the decision to get rid of "silver linings" and "playbook" must have been easy. Neither the expression nor the word "playbook", which comes from sports, are used or even known by French audiences. "Happiness Therapy" describes a bit of what the movie is about. "Happy" and "therapy" are easy words for French people to get.
That's it for the first part. What do you think about these "translations"? They have a lot of French people scratching their heads in online forums. Can you think of reasons why localization teams made the decision to change the title without changing the language?
If you liked this post, check out part 2!