Each year, in parallel to its competitions, the Clermont festival offers a retrospective based on a theme: outer space, the bicycle, and the swimming pool among many others have taken turns serving as the common thread in these programs, which at each occasion tell a special cinematic story, more or less unusual, but always surprising, as they invite the audience on a journey off the beaten track, head into to the wind, throughout the years and the countries,
From the 1-9 February 2019, this journey will be entitled Short in Translation, and will act to connect and untangle the tongues in a Tower of Babel consisting of sixteen short films.
Whereas talking without saying anything is commonly construed as meaningless rambling, sometimes to talk without saying anything is the very objective: weaving sounds together that mark out a territory, conjuring terrifying silences. We may have the luxury of speaking the same language, or understanding a bit of the other’s native tongue, but how about when this is not the case? Could it be that it is exactly in these awkward situations that the greatest of friendships are formed, by obliging the speakers to get to the essential point, the heart of the dialog? Let’s take a look.
Hiroshi only speaks Japanese, Marisa only Spanish: how will they pull through with only a pocket dictionary, an old dog and some paella? (Ato san nen / Encore trois ans); a young Chinese man works hard to make himself understood by the Irish, to whom he has been led by chance: will he impress them? (Yu Ming Is Ainm Dom / Mon nom est Yu Ming); a middle-aged Austrian playboy has a romantic meeting in Ukraine, but the agencies can’t always anticipate everything (Hello My Name Is Olga); Thomas and Thomas, a couple of rather lethargic Parisien men in their thirties, have to welcome to France Ole and Adam, two Greenlanders who have never before left their icy little village: they will have to speak with their hands (Inupiluk); two widows, one American, the other Korean, don’t seem to have much in common when we first encounter them in a park in Philadelphia, but it is well known that certain herbs are magical (Mindle raeh / Pissenlit).
Not speaking the language can sometimes be painful. Those who have been forced to flee their countries know this well. In On This Island, a young civil servant who looks straight out of a car advertisement is shaken up by his Greek teacher, who makes him prove that he is a good immigrant, a test that borders on absurdity. Echoing a Kafkaesque tableau, a young African woman clashes with the bureaucracy of a strange society in Sub. But order must prevail, and to build a henhouse in Flanders, you must speak Flemish! Tasty teacher Wim Willaert explains it to us in Welkom.
We will also see in French Kiss that speaking in a foreign language can be extremely liberating, rendering the crudest of conversations harmless, until…
From the 1980s to today, from Finland to Korea, Short in Translation will essentially be comprised of fiction, with two animated films: Kielitiettyni, a man’s desperate search for his “sister language”, and no less than La découverte du langage, from the series L’Histoire du monde by the hilarious professor Phil Mulloy. Only one documentary, but it is a monumental one: in a deliciously British style, Language Lessons takes a look at the universe of universal constructed languages, and those who fervently use them: Esperanto, Volapük, plus other unsuspected ones…
Goethe wrote, “Translators are like busy match-makers: they sing the praises of some half-veiled beauty, and extol her charms, and arouse an irresistible longing for the original.” But interpreters can sometimes be fanciful, as can be seen with Nico (yes, the singer!) translating Maurice Garrel from French to… French in L’Interview, which our first festival-goers discovered in Clermont in 1987. They can also, like Konrad, be crushed beneath the weight of History and the stakes of their interpretations, between two raging presidents (Berlin Troika). With Elena, as with many children of immigrants, she is the only one in the family to speak her host country’s language. It sometimes happens that we grow up in one day.
Finally, if there is any language that has inspired numerous short films (we recall Découflé’s Petit Bal), it is sign language. Based on a personal experience, The Silent Child won the 2018 Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film and can be found in this retrospective.