Friday, October 26, 2007

The conclusion of Breathless: translating the untranslatable

In conjunction with my review of the terrific Criterion Collection release of Godard's classic Breathless on this week’s show, I offer this montage of three different English translations of the famous last lines of the film. The French dégueulasse is an untranslatable word that can be taken several ways. It can be “repulsive,” “shitty,” “[that] stinks,” “nauseating,” “sickening,” and the three choices provided below. The most accurate translation would seemingly be the simple ol’ English word “disgusting.”

Thus, we have the standard, original translation, which unfortunately has Belmondo cursing out poor Jean Seberg — it’s not at all clear what he’s saying, but most Godardians go with c’est dégueulasse (this is disgusting/this stinks). The use of “bitch,” thought not strictly correct, does make for a very good American-English equivalent of the word-play going on here. The second version is the worst translation of all time, a nice shot of NYPD Blue–era 1990s America: the immortal “scumbag.” The last is the newest translation which gets super-literal on us: the word dégueulasse comes from the French verb that means to nauseate someone, to make them puke, thus we have Jean Seberg now asking what “puke” means. Ah, the joys of translation….

Click here if the above doesn't work.

No comments: