14 October 2007

The Maltese Bibelot

A recent screening of Kazan’s On the Waterfront, subtitled in French, brought the realization that French audiences may have only the vaguest idea what the film is about: some things don’t translate very well. The characters expressed themselves more like elderly professors than like hard-driving Brooklyn dockworkers, and they eschewed slang: “I could have possessed chic. I could have been a concurrent. I could have been a personage, as opposed to a tramp, that which I am.”

To give you a clearer understanding of the warped perceptions that subtitles must give the average French moviegoer, I have prepared a little screenplay, entitled The Maltese Bibelot.

Scene 1: The Office of the Detective that is called Sam Pique. The evening. A lonely lamp provides the lonely lighting; at the exterior, a neon signal winks through the jealousies. SAM, he is drinking a beverage that is not Cognac. A bourgeoise, VILMA, enters.

VILMA: Monsieur Pique? My exigency is this. I have need that you discover my spouse. He has been disappeared during three weeks.

SAM [voiceover]: I knew that she posed difficulty at the instant I perceived her. Legs of the kind that she possessed must always provoke suspicion.

VILMA: I am at the bottom of my spirits. I fear that he may have been killed by the one that is his business partner. They disputed prior to the disappearance of him.

SAM [voiceover]: To her recounting, there existed an ichthyic element, for that she did not appear to lament the spouse. However, I had not been engaged for my professional services during three months past. The proprietor of my apartment was demanding payment.

SAM: Less rapid, my beautiful. You must acknowledge above all that I require 462.76 Francs by day and the reimbursement of all spending.

VILMA: Your conditions are exorbitant. I am not a person of wealth. I am but a simple woman of the household.

SAM [voiceover]: The words of some lips, they were countermanded by the collar of some diamonds.

(Sudden, the door, it is opened. The lamp, it is fired upon and extinguished. One can see but a shadow in the way of the door.)

SHADOWY PERSONAGE: Are you that he who is called Sam Pique?

SAM: That is I.

VILMA: Regard, Sam! He possesses an arm!

SHADOWY PERSONAGE: You are required to ask of yourself this: do I believe myself to be lucky? Do you, scalawag?

SAM: Are you addressing me? Proceed, render my day auspicious. (Reaches for his arm and takes the aim)

SHADOWY PERSONAGE: Receive this! (Fires weapon) And this! (Fires again) And this as well! (Fires again, then this one disappears.)

VILMA (screaming after him): You unsanitary, malodorous rodent of an exceptional variety that is unsuitable as an ingredient in savory fricassées!

SAM [voiceover]: It astonished me. That woman, she appeared to be bourgeoise, yet she employed the foul parlance of a Brooklyn dockworker. There attached to her a mystery, and a mystery displeases me as does abdominal pain.

SAM: Did he strike you, Madame?

VILMA: No, Monsieur Pique. He fell short of the mark by 1.60934 kilometers. It is indeed fortunate that he extinguished the lights in the room before he fired his arm. For that he was unable to see us, to strike us was not possible.

SAM: You are in error. He did not intend to strike us. He intended to give us fear. Madame, I am in anger now. I take it amiss when unknown persons fire at me. Yes, I shall take this affair. I vow to discover the person that fired at me, and I shall discover your husband, as well, for I am persuaded of the coincidence of these matters.

VILMA: There exists no need to do so, Monsieur Pique. You have merely to assemble your lips ... and emit a current of air. (She commences to exit.)

SAM: Suspend, my child. Do I comprehend you to state that you are allowing the affair to fall?

VILMA: On the contrary. The unknown with the arm was my spouse. I have identified of him the voice. Therefore, he is disappeared no more, and I do not require your aid. Please receive my distinguished expression of gratitude, Monsieur Pique! (She kisses him and makes her departure.)

SAM: Here is to regard you, child.