Paul Memmi

Film Translator

A filmmaker is the translator
of his own vision

Very often, overly confident filmmakers neglect the influence of the person who will carry their work into the universe of foreign language and culture. Don’t they know that their work, once translated, will be a new reality? That the translator is the actor of their words, the soloist of their score who can either reveal or massacre their work? The translator is a slave whom you depend on.

In the experience of artistic creation, this imitation is refused. Making an original work of art comes down to creating an origin, or else using a new sign to cover the gaping Origin. The creator is at the origin of what allows a narration, he goes where no-one goes without anxiety. And by forcing the rules of representation, he attempts a communication based on an ensemble of new signs. But a sign gets acknowledged as such in a culture only if it is felt as imitating life. I am not talking about realistic or veristic style where it is suitable to imitate mundane shapes, I am talking about a modus vivendi specific to art which allows it to be acknowledged as such.

The interpreter does not go all the way to the origin. Maybe, and I feel so, he is grateful to creators who prove that one can be wise and mad at the same time. But at first glance, he can settle for knowing only one side of the creator’s double soul. Thus, he finds the great moral principle of his work: loyalty. Being faithful, like a monk-soldier. His first duty is to understand the means given to the detail of each word, of each syntactic structure, of each explicit and apparently certain relation, but also in the detail of each trope that conveys musical patterns, ellipsis, ambiguities and implicit senses. A translator is good if, before all, he is a good critic.

But his analysis is not aiming at mere critic, his work must be directly inspired by the specific creativity that underlies the piece in order to then deliver a creative critic of it. Would he be only a craftsman, the translator must deliver a work of art from a work of art and not only a technical imitation of it, which would be just a forgery. Yes, a forger is he who only reproduces the surface of a work of imagination, be it smooth like a Botero painting which hides the palimpsest of its hard-won elaboration.

The creator creates a sense, the translator associates and often creates another form of this sense without denaturing it. But the imaginary nature of the goal and the means to find it - a language, which is a structure held open by the imaginary - turn the second traveller, the translator, into an author. The translator, always a creator in imitation, must exert his own creative ability. There lies the second moral principle of translation: assuming freedom.

When an author finds his good translator and when a translator finds his good author, they experience a rich, brotherly and enigmatic relationship. Because the translator urges questions that the author has not always consciously asked himself or that he has since forgotten. The translator reopens his work for him, revives it. He is in the author’s image, but like a calmer, postponed double.

But the translator’s ever so confident expectations send back to the creator his own crushing ideal: does he still measure up to his previous inspiration? Between the creator, always threatened by anxiety and the feeling of fraud, and the translator pulled out from the shadows to face the one who prompts his text, who legitimates his part, which one of the two resembles most the empty skin hanging, like Michelangelo as Saint-Bartholomew Martyr, in the Sistine Chapel’s Last Judgment?

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