And the Oscar for Best Translation Goes To…

Got the popcorn ready? So do we! As the Oscars draw near, we couldn’t help but wonder how well this year’s nominees will translate for audiences in other countries. Let’s take a look at the five finalists in the category of best foreign language film:

Ida (Poland)

Set in Communist Poland in 1962, this beautiful black and white film is also nominated for Best Cinematography. The two female leads in this movie are a young orphan, Anna, who realizes she has Jewish ancestry right before taking her vows to become a nun, and her aunt, Wanda. They set out to discover the tragic story of their family’s fate, leading them to question what they really believe. The original film features three languages – Polish, French, and Latin.

Most interesting translation? The Polish title for this film is Siostra milosierdzia, which means Sister of Mercy. In every other country, the best option for translation was simply not to translate or adapt the title at all.

Argentina Ida
Switzerland (French title) Ida
Switzerland (German title) Ida
Chile Ida
Spain Ida
France Ida
Greece Ida
Hungary Ida
Israel (Hebrew title) Ida
Italy Ida
Poland (working title) Siostra milosierdzia
Portugal Ida
Russia Ида


Levithian (Russia)

The main character in this Russian-language film, Kolya, is a mechanic who lives in a small fishing village. He teams up with an old army friend turned attorney in Moscow to fight against a corrupt and vengeful mayor.

The title of this movie refers to a large sea monster. The word levithian is also sometimes used to refer to a whale, which is what it means in Modern Hebrew today. The creature is referenced in the Old Testament of the Bible, and is described extensively in the book of Job. Many consider this film to be a timely criticism of Putin’s government.

Again, as often happens with proper nouns, the film’s title was mostly not translated, but transliterated. Here’s how it was rendered into other languages for the countries where it has been released so far:

(original title) Leviafan
Brazil Leviatã
Germany Leviathan
Denmark Leviathan
Spain Leviatán
Finland Leviathan
France Leviathan
UK Leviathan
Greece Λεβιάθαν
Hungary Leviatán
Mexico Leviathan
Norway Leviatan
Poland Lewiatan
Serbia Levijatan
Russia Левиафан
Sweden Leviatan
Slovenia Leviatan
Turkey (Turkish title) Leviathan
USA Leviathan
World-wide (English title) Leviathan


Timbuktu (France)

The hero of this film is a peaceful cattle herder living in the dunes near the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu, named Kidane. Along with his family, he resists religious extremists. As prohibitions become more extreme – banning soccer and laughter – he remains unwilling to give into fear and violence. Language fans, you’ll not only hear French, Arabic and English spoken in this film, but Bambara (spoken by roughly 4 million people in Mali) and Songhay.

Titles of movies sometimes reveal more about their plot in some languages than in others. Unlike some of the other nominees, this film hasn’t been released in many countries yet, but we find it interesting that the title in French is Le chagrin des oiseaux, which roughly means “Sorrow of the Birds.”

Here is the title of the movie as released in a few other countries:

Spain Timbuktu
France (alternative title) Le chagrin des oiseaux
Greece (DVD title) Timbuktu
Russia Тимбукту
World-wide (English title) Timbuktu


Tangerines (Georgia)

This wartime movie is set in 1992 in an Estonian village in the Georgian Apkhazeti region. The film shows the perspectives of two men, Ivo and Margus, who are from opposing sides, but find themselves left behind when most others have fled due to war. This is an anti-war story, and the title reflects the tangerine crops that Margus wants to harvest before he leaves the village. The languages in this film include Estonian (spoken by about 1 million people), Russian, and Georgian (spoken by about 4 million people).

The translations for this film’s title are all pretty straight-forward, given that it’s just one word and refers to a common food:

Georgia (alternative title) Mandarinebi
Hungary Mandarinok
Lithuania Mandarinai
Poland Mandarynki
Serbia Mandarine
Russia Мандарины
World-wide (English title) Tangerines


Wild Tales (Argentina)

This Spanish-language collection of six interwoven stories has a single theme – revenge, but with a twist. What happens to people who are wronged when they are pushed over a certain edge? This is the basic question that each story answers in a dramatized, often extreme way. For example, a privileged man in a sports car makes an obscene gesture to a man in a slower and less expensive car. Later on, the jerk gets a flat tire and needs the same man’s help.

The best translation for this film’s title comes from German, “Jeder dreht mal durch!” This one doesn’t translate literally. It means something like “Everyone loses it now and then.” (German translators out there, tell us how you’d translate this phrase differently in the comments below.)

Brazil Relatos Selvagens
Czech Republic Divoké historky
Germany Wild Tales: Jeder dreht mal durch!
Spain Relatos salvajes
Finland Wild Tales
France Les nouveaux sauvages
Greece Ιστορίες για αγρίους
Hungary Eszeveszett mesék
Italy (new title) Storie pazzesche
Mexico Relatos salvajes
Poland Dzikie historie
Portugal Relatos Selvagens
Serbia Divlje stvari
Russia Дикие истории
Sweden Wild Tales
World-wide (English title) Wild Tales


One thing’s for sure – the Oscars offer something for everyone. Geeks will scrutinize the best visual effects. Film buffs will argue over who gets the Best Director nod. Fashionistas will be checking out “who’s wearing who.”

And those of us who work in global marketing or translation services? We’ll be eager to see how these foreign films fare. If we get a multilingual acceptance speech, let’s call it an added bonus.

So tell us! Will you be watching the Oscars? If so, which country – or language – will you be rooting for? Share your thoughts on these films, and their translations, in the comments below.

About Nataly Kelly

Nataly brings nearly two decades of translation industry experience to Smartling, most recently as Chief Research Officer at industry research firm Common Sense Advisory. Previously, she held positions at AT&T Language Line and NetworkOmni (acquired by Language Line), where she oversaw product development. A veteran translator and certified court interpreter for Spanish, she has formally studied seven languages, and is currently learning Irish. A former Fulbright scholar in sociolinguistics, Nataly lives in the Boston area with her husband and daughter. When she isn’t working, you’ll usually find her translating Ecuadorian poetry, writing books, and exploring the world (36 countries and counting!).