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– “No Strings attached” posters from Quebec, France and United States –

You may not know this but in France and in Quebec, not all movie titles are translated. Sometimes, English ones are replaced with other English titles.

Many sarcastic French bloggers have been listing translated titles that appear to be… say, quite interesting:

  • Made in Dagenham > We Want Sex Equality
  • Not another teen movie > Sex Academy
  • Paradise Alley > La Taverne de l’enfer

And it is actually worse in Quebec! On the other side of the ocean, French language protection can lead to some funny results if you speak French:

  • Pulp Fiction > Fiction pulpeuse…
  • Waiting to Exhale > Vénus dans la Vierge…
  • Chicken Run > Poulets en fuite…
  • Legally Blonde 2 > Blonde et Légale 2…
  • Ghost > Mon fantôme d’amour…
  • Scary Movie > Film de peur

Canadian are not the only ones, Spanish people are quite good at it as well but for now, let’s focus on American and British movies in France.
Some bloggers have spotted some general tendencies such as using the word “sex” or “American” to make it sound cooler, or using the word “mort” (death) or “enfer” (hell) to make it sound profound, or removing “the” to avoid pronunciation issues… but we can go into this deeper: who decides what? Are there official rules?

Renaming a movie is a very common thing used by all motion picture distributors. They sometimes use surveys (e.g. for “The Reader”) or translation contests (e.g. Tarantino’s “DeathProof”, translated to “Boulevard de la Mort”). This process can take up to several months!

According to a study published in 2010 on the French website Slate.fr, “57% of 200 Americans movies released in France between 2009 and 2010 by the main movie studios have been translated in French and 43% had an English title: 35% kept their original one and 8% had a new English one.
Although there are no specific rules about renaming titles, some main trends can be highlighted, although they include  exceptions:

  1.  Children movies’ titles are translated.
  2. Titles that do not mean anything to French people are translated or renamed: “No Strings Attached” became “Sex Friends” which is easier to understand in French with the plot being more obvious.
  3. When too complicated to pronounce or to remember, English titles are translated or changed.
  4. Character movies are not retitled.
  5. Movies adapted from a French book are not retitled.

As the poster, the trailer and the advertising campaign, the title is part of the main marketing strategy that is based on cultural values. Its target and image are decided just as its positioning. The intercultural process is an integral part of each of those steps.
Here, “intercultural” implies national cultures only, as movies are released on a national basis.

There are three main rules for movie titles: sound, connotations, references.

  • Sound:
           
              American poster                                     French poster

“Chevalier et Jour” does not sound great in French. Exotism (English above all) once more prevails and as the word “knight” could have not been understood either, it was removed along with the pun.

  • Connotations :

              American poster                                French poster

As the author of the study writes, “it would have been more logical to use the French book title Le Liseur but the team in charge of choosing the movie title feared that it might sound too intellectual and would not convey the dramatic tension. A testing organization showed a poster to 500 people with the title “The Reader” and another one with “Le Liseur”. They realized that people prefered the first one over the second.”
  • References :

              American poster                                          French poster
Get Him to the Greek” was renamed American Trip in France. The same author reports that “”The Greek” was a direct reference to the Los Angeles theater and would not have meant anything to a French audience. It was necessary to rename it but using another English title with the word “American”, they tried to make it sound “cooler” and the word “Trip” reminded of the success movie “The Hungover” which was released in France under the title “Very Bad Trip” in 2009.”

Renaming a movie is not a game in order to find the craziest title ever but it is an emblematic process of intercultural communication.

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