Interpretation, Perspective

At the Movies: Reviewing “The Interpreter”

By Tetu Hirai

On April 19th, NCTA members got a rare treat in the form of a special, by-invitation-only screening of Universal Pictures’ release of “The Interpreter,” starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn. In conjunction with the development of an article on the making of the movie—written by NCTA member Carolina Arrigoni-Shea and appearing in the May issue of Translorial—the studio generously offered tickets to NCTA members for showings in four cities: San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, and Fresno.

In the film, Silvia Broome (played by Nicole Kidman), is an interpreter who works at the United Nations, and who overhears a plot to assassinate an African head of state. This plan is spoken in a rare dialect that very few people, including Silvia, understand. Silvia then becomes the target of the killers, and her world is changed as her own political background is slowly revealed to her FBI protectors.

For those of us in NCTA who are interpreters, we had the unique opportunity of assessing the movie from the point of view of our own profession. But both interpreter and translator colleagues had much to say, especially pertaining to the credibility of the interpretation done by Nicole Kidman’s character, and to the opportunity the movie offered in making the public more aware of the profession of interpretation.

Some attendees generally felt that Nicole Kidman did a credible job in depicting an interpreter. Sacramento attendee Michel Rousselin, a former United Nations interpreter, said, ‘’I felt that Kidman’s depiction of an interpreter was quite natural and very well done. She was speaking a bit slower at the beginning (as would be expected for a real interpreter) and then she spoke a bit faster as she heard more phrases.”

Others in attendance, including San Jose attendee Andrea Wells and San Francisco attendees Marianne Pripps and Anne Milano Appel, felt that the movie fell short in depicting the interpreter’s life—its demanding skills, fascinating subjects, and extreme stresses—in a way that truly represented the breadth and depth of the profession. Echoing the notion that the film was more of a suspense-thriller than a true examination of an interpreter’s life, San Francisco attendee Anthony Alioto noted that the movie “had little to do with the real activities of a U.N. interpreter.”

Overall, however, most attendees thought it was beneficial for the industry that interpretation was depicted on the big screen at all, and that the public became more aware of the profession. As attendee and Sacramento correspondent Tatyana Neronova said: “I believe that this movie allowed people to see how important our job is, and how careful and professional we should be so that we do a good job.”

We now hope that more opportunities lie ahead.