In the lead-up to the upcoming release of the third book in the acclaimed Daedalus series, Eric Angstrom (Lambert Wilson), the enigmatic CEO of a publishing firm, hires a team of nine translators (Katerina, Helene, Alex, Dario, Javier, Telma, Konstantinos, Chen and Ingrid) to work on simultaneous translations of the third instalment. However, in order to maintain permanent secrecy and prevent any leaks, Angstrom makes the translators work in a lavish concrete bunker beneath a chateau under constant surveillance. When it is discovered that someone has leaked the first ten pages of the novel online and is threatening to leak more unless paid, Angstrom and the translators turn on each other in order to find the culprit.
Director and co-writer Rosinard does an effective job of conveying the initial tension of the situation, with Angstrom and the forbidding design of the bunker providing a subtly intimidating presence that is amplified by the revelations of the manuscript’s gradual theft. This enables Wilson to reveal the more unhinged elements of Angstrom’s character, as he resorts to using increasingly violent and threatening methods to uncover the hacker.
In addition, the performances of the titular translators are also impressive, with Olga Kurylenko‘s essaying of the mysterious Katerina, Sidse Babett Knudsen‘s depiction of Helene’s insecurities of her writing skill and in particular Alex Lawther‘s skilful portrayal of Alex’s shifting personality standing out.
However, whilst the overall narrative is compelling, its structural differences result in the film’s plot developments having less of a dramatic impact than intended. The decision of Rosinard and his fellow co-writers Romain Compingt and Daniel Presley to place revelations about Angstrom and the true identity of the hacker at the middle of the film instead of the expected climax results in the following events at the bunker feeling somewhat anticlimactic, with any tension regarding what will happen to certain characters being removed by the twist and reducing a lot of the audience engagement as a result.
Despite this flaw, the plot development does allow Rosinard to stage an effective mini-heist sequence involving a train journey that stands out as one of the film’s more distinctive sequences. The reveal also provides Wilson with ample opportunities to demonstrate his emotional range, by leaning into the more volatile aspects of Angstrom’s character, as well as introducing an effective supporting role for veteran French actor Patrick Bauchau as an elderly mentor figure whose importance becomes apparent as the film progresses.
Whilst The Translators does suffer in its second half from an awkwardly-placed narrative development, the remainder of the writing, along with Rosinard’s skilful direction and strong ensemble performances, are effective enough to overcome this shortcoming, ultimately providing a solidly entertaining and engaging thriller that is worth watching.
Screening as part of the French Film Festival UK 2021