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The Translators: A Whodunnit, a Howdunnit, and a Whydunnit

The Translators spins a mysterious web of literary secrets, suspicions, and schemes in a deliciously twisty plot with plenty of clever surprises and thrills.

A mystery thriller in the vein of Knives Out and Murder on the Orient Express, The Translators (Les Traducteurs) takes us into the high-stakes world of literary publishing. Author Oscar Brach has just completed the conclusion to his bestselling Dedalus trilogy, The Man Who Did Not Want to Die, and his publisher, Eric Angstrom (Lambert Wilson), is eager for the book’s lucrative release. Angstrom has assembled a team of nine translators (Olga Kurylenko, Eduardo Noriega, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Alex Lawther, Riccardo Scamarcio, Anna Maria Sturm, Frédéric Chau, Maria Leite, and Manolis Mavromatakis) and brings them to an underground bunker in a remote French villa where they will spend the next two months on their translations. To prevent the novel from being leaked, they are given twenty pages a day to translate as armed guards watch their every move. Trapped underground with no chance of leaving and forbidden from using the internet, there is no access to the outside world and no chance for the manuscript to be stolen.

Or so it seems…

Soon, Angstrom receives an ominous message that the first ten pages of the novel have been leaked online and the hacker has threatened to release the rest of it if a ransom is not paid. At first it seems impossible for the manuscript to have been leaked. After all, the translators are under constant surveillance and have no chance to sneak it outside the bunker. But, as soon as we learn more about the motivations and suspicious activities of each of the translators, we begin to suspect that one of them is the hacker. But which one? How did they do it? And why?

loud and clear reviews the translators
The Translators (Wild Bunch, Courtesy of French Film Festival @ Home)

Watching The Translators, it’s easy to be impressed with how director/co-writer Régis Roinsard pulls this film off with remarkable ease. The screenplay is carefully paced and plotted, cleverly revealing just enough information to arouse our curiosity and draw us in, and just when we think we’ve been shown a clue too early, we suddenly see just how much more of the bigger picture we still haven’t seen. His skillful direction is best witnessed in a gripping heist sequence that’s scripted and shot with clockwork precision, and the carefully placed long takes and rhythmic cuts build immersive momentum that gets the heart pumping. Meanwhile, cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman keeps the images engaging with smooth, slick camera movements to complement the luxurious production design and quickly switches to unstable handheld shots once the tension and mistrust arise, and to seal the deal, composer Jun Miyake provides a classy, tense score with strings, piano, and jazzy flourishes.

The Translators is graced with a diverse international cast, with standout performances from Lambert Wilson as the icy Angstrom, Olga Kurylenko as the impassioned Russian translator Katerina, and Alex Lawther as the quietly cunning English translator Alex. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters aren’t particularly memorable, and this is where the film loses a bit of necessary personality. There are few moments of teamwork like a clever scene where the translators try to secretly communicate, jumping from Spanish to Russian to Mandarin, and it’s clear that the script would have been even stronger if it was more involving of its multiple characters, who feel a bit underused and often left out of the bigger picture. By the end, there isn’t much closure for them, which seems to lose sight of the film’s initial premise. Anyways, the story is a tough balancing act having to juggle so many characters amidst its plot twists that it’s easy to forgive these flaws, and ultimately, The Translators is a rewarding watch, providing plenty of thrills, twists, and turns that keep us guessing right up until the very end.

The Translators (Les Traducteurs) was screened digitally at the French Film Festival @ Home on Friday, 26th March, 2021.

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