Found Objects (Translators in Film and Television)

Greater than 4 minutes, my friend!

Translator! (Interpreter!) In the flickering shadows of cinema and the vast flatland of video, you are eternally brilliant, funny and beautiful. Below is a selection of films and TV programs that deal with language translation.

Lost in Translation (2003 film starring Bill Murray) [The Suntory whisky commercial, translation scene]

Bill Murray in Lost in Translation

Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is an aging American movie star who arrives in Tokyo to film an advertisement for Suntory whisky. Charlotte (Scarlett Johanssen), a young college graduate, is left in her hotel room by her husband, John, a celebrity photographer on assignment in Tokyo. Each day Bob and Charlotte encounter each other in the hotel, and finally meet at the hotel bar one night when neither can sleep.

In the scene where they are making the commercial, the American is mystified at the difference in length between the Japanese director’s instructions to him and his translator’s short English interpretation.

Spelling it out: The English text of the scene is here.

Who’s funny? You are!

Twenty Twelve (BBC comedy TV miniseries, 2011-2012) Season 1, Episode 2 translation scenes

2012 Hugh Bonneville and Karina Fernandez

Twenty Twelve is a mockumentary about preparing for the 2012 summer Olympics in London. In this episode [at minute 7:00] Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville) of the British “Deliverance Commission” for the 2012 Olympics meets the Brazilian delegation in London and welcomes them. In a comic twist, Ian speaks to the Brazilians in Portuguese while the interpreter (played by Karina Fernandez) utters the English “translation” of Ian’s speech.

Later [at minute 15:20], the Brazilians are being taken by bus to the Olympic stadium site. The Portuguese interpreter distills a detailed 30-second English explanation to 7 words.

2012 2nd scene




The Catherine Tate Show (BBC comedy series 2004) [Offensive Translator scene – translating into 7 languages]

The Catherine Tate Show


Helen Marsh (played by Catherine Tate) convinces her boss that she can be the translator for a meeting of international executives from seven countries.

Please help us now!

Uti Vår Hage (Norwegian TV, comedy episode about the Danish language)

Uti Var Hage

Uti vår hage (English: Out in Our Meadow, named after a folk song) was a Norwegian sketch comedy television program which ran in 2003 and 2008 on the Norwegian state channel NRK. The show starred three well-known comedians: Atle Antonsen, Harald Eia and Bård Tufte Johansen. In this segment, a man claims that the Danish language was always impossible to understand by most Scandinavians, but now things are so bad that not even the Danes themselves understand Danish. (Warning: I laughed until I cried.)


Bananas (1971 Woody Allen) [The interpreter scene]

Bananas - Woody Allen

Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen) is a neurotic blue collar man who tries to impress social activist Nancy (Louise Lasser) by trying to get in touch with the revolution in San Marcos. He visits the republic and is nearly killed by the local caudillo and then saved by the revolutionaries, putting him in their debt. Mellish then learns, clumsily, how to be a revolutionary. When the revolution is successful, the Castro-style leader goes mad, forcing the rebels to place Mellish as their President.

Time for a little romance…

The Interpreters / Les Interprètes (Chinese TV comedy series)

The Interpreters (China)

Qiao Fei (played by Yang Mi) is a French postgraduate who dreams of becoming a famous interpreter. She coincidentally meets a professional French interpreter, Cheng Jia Yang (played by Huang Xuan), and the two start their mentorship on the wrong foot. She earns his praise when she continuously overcomes his challenges and the two gradually develop feelings towards each other. In Episode 6 they find themselves in a compromising situation.

…Gone too far

El Pasado (The Past) 2007 Argentina

El Pasado / The Past

After twelve years of marriage, Rimini (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Sofia (Analia Couceyro) decide to divorce. Rimini, who is a translator, has no trouble moving on and finding another woman. Sofia, however, is neither able to rebuild her life, nor forget Rimini, and so she begins to stalk the new woman in Rimini’s life. (See the trailer here.)

Oh you beautiful thing!

Russian Translation (Русский перевод) TV miniseries

Russian Translation

This 2006 Russian TV miniseries is based on the novel The Journalist by Andrej Konstantinov (1996). The plot is set in the 1980s and follows Soviet military advisors and translators working in Arab countries, specifically in Yemen and Libya.

Journalist-orientalist Andrey Obnorsky (played by Nikita Zverev) is a military interpreter who goes to South Yemen and then Libya. In both countries, danger lies in wait for him at every step. First, Obnorsky unwittingly is at the epicenter of an operation selling large quantities of weapons to the Palestinians. Then, investigating the strange suicide of a best friend, Andrey goes to a group of war criminals who are stealing planes from a Libyan airbase…

The Interpreter (Nicole Kidman) 2005 – Translation scenes at beginning

Nicole Kidman

Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman) is an interpreter working at the United Nations in New York City. She was raised in the Republic of Matobo, a fictional African country, but has dual citizenship. The U.N. is considering indicting Edmond Zuwanie (Earl Cameron), Matobo’s president, to stand trial in the International Criminal Court. A security scare forces the evacuation of the U.N. building, and, as Silvia returns at night to reclaim some personal belongings, she overhears 2 men discussing an assassination plot in Ku (an East-Africa dialect she understands).

Poetry in motion…

Shelby Mitchusson’s ASL interpretation of Eminem’s Lose Yourself (from the 2002 film 8 Mile)

Shelby 3  Eminem

That’s All, Folks!

E.S. Dempsey

About E.S. Dempsey

Literary and short business/science/legal translations from most European languages, also Japanese. Short book translations via Babelcube. Translations for (pro bono). Target=English

Leave a Reply

The Open Mic

Where translators share their stories and where clients find professional translators.

Find Translators OR Register as a translator