Translator and author, Nicolas Richard had the opportunity to answer Régis Roinsard’s questions when he was preparing his new film Les Traducteurs. He agreed to answer our questions about what he thought of the film and his description of the profession.
While preparing to write his new film, Translators, Régis Roinsard wanted to get as close as possible to the profession he was going to describe. He therefore met many translation professionals. Among them, Nicolas Richard answered his questions. French translator and writer, he has translated a hundred books of Anglo-Saxon literature including the novels of Thomas Pynchon, a mysterious author who keeps a veil of secrecy over his identity. From his discussions with Nicolas Richard, Régis Roinsard has most certainly drawn part of the personality of Oscar Brach, a successful author who wishes at all costs to remain hidden in his film The Translators. During a telephone interview, Nicolas Richard sheds light on the profession of translator and the way it is portrayed in Régis Roinsard’s film.
Régis Roinsard, the director of the film Les Traducteurs, met you when he was preparing the film. What was he looking for?
He was interested in the fact that I translated Thomas Pynchon, a rather mysterious American author, still alive, of whom we know almost nothing; Pynchon has never given a single interview in his life, has never appeared in public, only one photo of him is circulating, very old; some even doubted its existence! So inevitably, such a figure is fantasizing. Régis Roinsard was perhaps more or less inspired by the myth of this invisible author.
Did you give him advice about the profession of translator?
I don’t know exactly what I said to him – or not! – of my profession. But no, I didn’t give any advice! In any case, when I saw the film, I said to myself that the director had made a lot of inquiries because he managed to present a gallery of characters from translators who were quite convincing.
What types of translator did you recognize in the film?
All of them are fair enough. None is missing the point! Everyone has their own method, their own history, their way of standing and speaking, their personal approach to the mission at hand. The character who translates from French into Greek is endearing: he is an academic, an intellectual, who takes the project from above and tells the cantonade that he accepted the mission only for the money. He is the only one who dares to say loud and clear: “I translate a bad text but it will sell a lot of copies so I’m doing it for the money”. Well, to a young person who is looking for a job to make a fortune for sure, I would not necessarily recommend translation! There is also the translator who identifies with a character in the book. It is one of the phenomena that one can find when one translates; such and such a character from a novel that we translate resonates with our personal concerns, but I have the impression that it is more for the author than the one who translates seeks to identify himself, to achieve to an original voice that will be that of the author in another language.
“There is a real porosity between the author’s activity
and that of translator “
There is also the profile of the frustrated writer. Is this something that you have seen in other translators?
Historically, there is a real porosity between the activity of author and that of translator. Baudelaire translated Allan Poe; Proust began by translating Ruskin. Paul Auster translated René Char, Mallarmé, Blanchot. There are many of them, the authors who are both translators, or the translators who are also authors, without there necessarily being any frustration. In any case, to translate is to write. André Markowicz, who retranslated all of Dostoïesvki, is also an author; the great translator Claro is the author of more than twenty novels. So, of course, one can imagine a frustrated translator as a writer, why not? But if a movie shows a baker committing a murder, that doesn’t mean all bakers are murderers, does it ?!
Régis Roinsard defines translators as smugglers. How would you define your job?
It is a discreet population, barely visible, which does the best job in the world, and which allows unattainable books (because written in a foreign language) to become …