"Translators are underpaid!" Interview with Lambert Wilson and Régis Roinsard

On the occasion of the release of the film The Translators, we met Régis Roinsard, its director, and the actor Lambert Wilson.

"Translators are underpaid!" Interview with Lambert Wilson and Régis Roinsard

On the occasion of the release of the film The Translators, we met Régis Roinsard, its director, and the actor Lambert Wilson. Interview.

Behind the film The Translators, there is the ambition to make an alternative proposal such as we still rarely see in French productions. Régis Roinsard, director and co-screenwriter of this original thriller, and Lambert Wilson, headliner of the project, gave us an interview where they talk in turn about the inspirations of the film, behind the scenes of its creation, the job of translator , the place of the genre in French cinema but also the lack of ambition of a certain part of the production in France.

Régis Roinsard: Yes, reading the articles about the translation of Inferno which took place in a bunker in the Italian publishing house of this book gave me the idea for the film. Twelve translators had been brought together to prevent any piracy of the book in advance. I thought, "What if the book was stolen?" That's where the idea for this storyline came from.

R. R.: No other inspirations but I like to find out about the worlds I approach so I have met a lot of translators. Mainly translators of bestsellers. The translator of Harry Potter, the translator of 50 shades of Grey, the translator of Harlan Coben and also the translator of Thomas Pynchon [Nicolas Richard, whom we interviewed here, editor's note], who is more confidential but whose identity we do not know 'identify. It interested me in relation to the person of Oscar Brach in the film. I wondered what relationship translators had with writers who didn't show their face. It fascinates me in this rather narcissistic time to see how authors manage to be masked. I really like the mask so when I see Banksy, Daft Punk… these are ways of doing things that appeal to me because ideally I would love not to be seen. It would be quite entertaining but for a director it is very difficult.

Lambert Wilson: And for an actor, it's even worse!

L. W.: And we can put on masks too…

L.W.: I have a very specific memory of it. Above all, I remember a conversation we had in a café with Régis and his producer. They started telling me the premise and I was like "It's okay, I already know who it is!" They had a way of presenting the story in such a way that I thought I was sly enough to have detected something. Of course I was wrong.

R.R.: Twice more, I remember.

L.W.: Yes it is. But that was before opening it and when I read it I thought it was very well done. Panting. Always unpredictable, until the last second. The bet that I find very successful is to only give the solution at the last minute. But it's not because we're artificially distilling it, it's because this skein of deception, mask and pretense is so well woven that it takes all this time to undo. It is very exhilarating to read. I'm not a huge fan of the genre because for me thriller thrillers are anxiety-provoking. I'm a little too impatient, I always want to read the end to get rid of the discomfort, the tension, the not knowing. Or maybe I'm a bit of a jerk. In stories of suspense, espionage, thriller, I understand nothing. Often I miss huge parts of the story. It's not my big specialty. I'm a little irritating that way, I like to show where there are weaknesses. Where the writers made mistakes. I don't think I could catch you...

R.R.: No, not even once. But at the same time, his questions were fair. He was asking me "but don't you think we're going to find out?" So we had explanations but, when in doubt, I tried to magnify the thing a little so that it worked.

L. W.: I have a faculty that saves me is that I really forget what I read. There's a lot of story development that I had overlooked. There was a whole sub-story that I had forgotten and which I found magnificent when I rediscovered the film.

R. R.: It's not just this genre, there are many others. There is still a majority of social or dramatic comedies… When I made my first film, which was a romantic comedy, it was already starting to disappear.

L.W.: That's true, don't you think?

R.R.: Yeah, because there were a lot. So I set out to make a romantic and sporty comedy. Like there, it's a thriller but at first you think it's a whodunnit [an Agatha Christie-style investigative film, editor's note], and then it changes. It's not what you imagined once and then a second time. When people tell me it's impossible, I like that. But when the films aren't made, you shouldn't just hit on the producers or the directors, it's also the will of the spectators. We have the cinema we deserve. And at the same time, things are changing. It only takes a moment for a film to be liked, like ours I hope, for it to lead to others. Whether it's done by me or by someone else, it would make me really happy. The American side, not just for its artistic direction but also for its style, there are few in France. There are still few directors who rub shoulders with all that. There are also some who are not yet trusted. But I think it will come.

L.W.: Totally and I totally agree with Regis. I am surprised by his analysis and agree with him. The public is also responsible but I also witness a total lack of originality and ambition. Stylistically speaking, it's so reduced. (Sigh) I'm so envious of Anglo-Saxon actors to whom we can at the same time offer projects for great historical films or heroic-fantasies... We're also going to oppose the question of money, but I think that this is not just that. We see for example that in the Anglo-Saxon series there is an originality of writing which does not necessarily imply a financial madness of expenditure. When you see Black Mirror, it's a series that I find very interesting and which should not be systematically. Episode by episode, everything is very different. What a riot of imagination and proposals for the actors, it's fabulous! We go around in circles… At the same time, I'm not an author so it's hard for me to blame them. But there is a lack of risk taking. I'm not a producer either. They will tell you that historical films are extremely expensive and that we don't have a sufficiently developed comic book culture to find a vein. That's why when we have a proposal like The Translators, I rush to it but they are really very rare.

R. R.: We talk about comics, but we've had authors for 10-15 years that we could draw inspiration from. It started with Trondheim, Sfar, Blain, Sattouf...

L. W.: And not necessarily the popular heroes we know.

R.R.: Lots to do. Afterwards, you were talking about producers but Alain Attal [who produced the film, editor's note] also cultivates that: making film proposals. And they are not necessarily American because they are also very rooted in France or in Europe. It's not like the Americans. I knew that we would never have the budget of La Mémoire under our skin. So to come up with something new, you have to be even stronger than them elsewhere. It can be in the scenario, in the stylistic or in the acting and the incarnation. What Lambert says about the fact that we can envy the Anglo-Saxon game, I can very well imagine it because he is in the game. He almost has a childhood connection to that. Do not forget it. You have to please the viewer, as Hitchcock said. Not in the accounting sense of making 4 million admissions. You have to give something to the spectator so that he is moved, overwhelmed… It's this relationship that I like. That's why I particularly like cinema. Obviously, I really like series but when you're in a room that reacts to a film, it's very enjoyable.

R. R.: Yes, there is a certain mise en abyme because when you build this kind of film, as it is about a theft, you have to put yourself in the place of the thief. And, a lot of times the theft movies, except when they have a fantasy part, are inspired by thefts that have taken place. There are even screenwriters who go to see former gangsters to find out how things are going. We, not at all. The stages of the scenario were quite large: design the flight, then...

L.W.: The what?

R.R.: Designing the theft of the novel…

L.W.: You're revealing things here!

R.R.: No not at all, it's in the trailer. Do not worry.

R.R.: I like that! Getting back to the question, we were more like mathematicians with a chart. Sometimes, when you remove an element, everything falls apart. So it's a difficult form of writing. Afterwards, when you have obtained all this mechanics, you have to breathe flesh into it all. That's also why we wrote three, because everyone has different strengths. They were actually my accomplices. In the end, it is a film of characters. The memory that we must have after the session is the human. So, for once, we worked like Americans because they work on a screenplay for a long time. The producer of the film gave us all the means to write. For two years, we had the opportunity to write in an office that the production graciously offered to us and where we could meet. Because sometimes it's hard too. We don't all live in supermarkets in Paris. This is the reality of writing too!

L. W.: No, and especially not in the publishing world because I don't know it that well. And then he is a boss, he has a greed, a greed, a taste for power such as I have observed more business leaders. We see them everywhere. Just look at Carlos Ghosn. They are there all the time, from morning to evening, on the news channels, on the radio in the morning. They have a speech extremely in control of their emotions and their language. They are so greedy that we destroy the planet. We are surrounded by these people who hold everything. There, this character he has few responsibilities but he still sold his soul to the devil. It's easy to imagine, I didn't need a model. I was wondering more about the look of the character: how do you style him, how do you dress him, how does he move? My problem is that I experience my own physique as a handicap. I would like to push the transformation further but unfortunately I have a face that is difficult to erase. I'm always caught up in my features because they're strong in some way. I would like to be a piece of chewing gum. As I cannot wear an absolute mask, which was the case this summer for De Gaulle where special techniques are used, you have to assume by developing your natural characteristics by almost exacerbating them. It becomes an eagle, an extremely aquiline character that is ready to swoop down on the little shrews.

R.R.: That's it. I really liked working with Lambert because I like working on artistic direction. I'm better able to find a certain truth through the costume, through the mask. I find it all the more organic.

L.W.: It's liberating for the actors. Well not for everyone but often the mask works in a disinhibiting way. We feel protected, we let go of many more things of ourselves.

R. R.: I have never sensed this kind of thing in the translators I have met. They are very good in their own skin. They are smugglers, they want to pass on. Personally, until I was 15-16, I read very little. And I managed to read when a bookseller introduced me to American literature. I realized that the books I liked were translated by the same translator, Brice Matthieussent. From then on I only read his translations. I first read translated literature before reading direct literature. A lot of people tend to say it's not the same thing. Yes, it is an adaptation but it is for the happiness of the readers. It's extremely hard to translate. It doesn't just mean having a dictionary or knowing how to speak the language. It is also doing research work: in books, on the internet, questioning people, sometimes authors. The great luck we have in France is that we translate a lot of books so we have access to a wide spectrum of what is happening in the world. In the United States we no longer translate books. I believe it was Brice Matthieussent who said that a country that no longer translates becomes a country of dictatorship.

L. W.: I have translator friends and I know that there is no frustration at all from authors because they defend the authors they like but they are victims of a certain contempt and they are used and totally underpaid. It's horrible how poorly paid they are. These are hours and months of meticulous work. At the hourly price, it can be ten times below the hourly salary of a person who takes care of the household. It's extravagant. I think we have a mission as a reader. We have to make a small effort to concentrate on these translators to try to spot them all the same. Not to take it for granted.


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