Movies are huge in France. There are important film festivals every year in Cannes and Deauville, French directors and movie stars are known all over the world, and theaters in France sell all-you-can-watch passes so that French audiences can see multiple showings every month. Films have long played an important role in French culture, and they still do today. But they're not just watching French movies in French cinémas Foreign films are popular too, with American films taking top billing. I've seen a lot of American movies in France, and one thing that always surprised me was the method (or lack thereof) for creating their titles. American movies in France don't necessarily retain their English names, and in some cases, they come out completely unrecognizable on the other side.
There seem to be three different fates for American movie titles in France. The first is that the original title is kept in English. For example, when I saw Sex and the City in Paris last spring, it was called Sex and the City. Nothing had been changed. The second option is that the original title is kept, but is translated into French. Lord of the Rings offers a good example of this; it becomes Le Seigneur des Anneaux. Chick flick 27 Dresses was showing while I was in Paris, and yep, they called it 27 Robes.
The third fate is the one that always catches me off guard. Occasionally, American movie titles are completely changed before being marketed to the French public. For example, the Steve Carell/Juliette Binoche film Dan in Real Life became Coup de Foudre à Rhode Island, which means Love at First Sight in Rhode Island in English. Quoi? That title has a totally different meaning than its original English version! I remember a few years back when Something's Gotta Give came out. I was in France, and it was called Tout Peut Arriver, which would be Anything Can Happen in English. So what's the deal? Why do some titles change and others don't? How do they decide which titles stay in English? And just who, exactly, is making all of these decisions?
Of course, this issue cuts both ways. Amélie - a French film that was hugely popular in the U.S. when it came out - isn't called Amélie in France. Its real title is Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulin, a nice little rhyme that, as you can probably guess, translates to The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulin. Maybe that's the key: the French title has a sing-songy feel to it, but when it's changed to English it loses that meaning. As a result, there's no point in keeping the original title. It does seem like the American movie titles that are changed tend to be idiomatic or slang-ridden. And I suppose it doesn't really matter what the movie is called, as long as it's worth the good euros, or dollars, you paid to see it.
Photo credit: clasixart