French Film Competition – The Winners

 

posted by Simon Kemp

As promised last week, here are extracts from the winning entries in our French film competition.

First, here is part of Sophie Still’s reimagining of the ending of Jean de Florette. Our judges said her new end to the story ‘both captured the mood and character of the film and dramatically reworked the ending’.

Manon is standing, holding a furry, wriggling mass in her arms. Once again, she is standing in Ugolin’s garden and once again, he is nowhere to be found. She approaches another flowerbed of plants and vegetables, crouches and sets the rabbit down in the soil.

Manon: There you are, little rabbit.

The rabbit sniffs at a bean plant and begins to nibble on a lettuce leaf.

Manon: That’s right. Feel free to eat whatever you want!

Suddenly an out-of-breath Ugolin rushes into the garden.

Ugolin: (holding up the secateurs, shouting angrily) Looking for something? How dare you destroy my flowers! Do you know how much they were worth?

Manon jumps in surprise, revealing the rabbit which is munching happily on the vegetables. He screams.

My plants! That’s it you’ve had it now!

Ugolin lunges towards the flowerbed. Manon screams and backs away quickly but he grabs the rabbit instead and dangles it by its ears.

Manon: (shouting) No! Put him down! Don’t touch my rabbit!

Ugolin: (grinning manically) But little girl, he’s not your rabbit anymore. He has come into my garden and eaten my plants – that makes him a pest, which means I’m allowed to do this…

He drops the rabbit onto the ground in front of him and snatches up the shovel that was leaning against the wall of the house. He raises it above his head.

Manon: (screaming) No! No!

Ugolin brings down the shovel and crushes the rabbit. Manon bursts into tears and screams and screams. Before he can do anything else, she dives in, scoops up the rabbit’s broken body and runs as fast as she can down the hillside. Ugolin calls after her.

Ugolin: Come back in here again and you’ll be next!

******

Manon hands the rabbit to Jean, who examines it carefully.

Jean: Oh my! Poor creature. Did a fox do this?

She wipes a tear from her eye and sniffles but does not reply. Jean picks up his shovel and begins to dig.

Jean: We are gathered here today to celebrate the life of Monsieur –

Manon: (quietly) Pierre

Jean: Monsieur Pierre who lived a short but happy life. He loved lettuce leaves and we loved him. He will be missed.

He picks up the rabbit and is placing it carefully in its deep grave when he nearly drops it in surprise.

What is this? The bottom of this grave is full of mud! But if there is mud, that must mean that there is—

Manon: (bursts out) Water!

Secondly, here is an extract from Lidija Beric’s new ending for Paris nous appartient, which the judges described as a ‘brilliant and ingenious reworking’ which ‘perfectly captures the darkness and complexity of the original’.

« Pourquoi lui as-tu dit de venir? »
Nos yeux se sont rencontrés et je l’ai vu, j’ai vu ce mélange de haine et d’amour quand il m’a regardée.
‘Terry !’
Je n’ai daigné répondre. Nous avons attendu dans le silence comme les ombres calmes au milieu d’une tempête.
Les pas faibles d’Anne ont soudain pu être écoutés et Philip a craqué. Il a crié encore « Pourquoi ? Pourquoi lâche –»
« Il est nécessaire qu’elle vienne. » Ma voix était monotone.
Les coups frappés à la porte ont transpercé l’air comme des balles.
« Ta nécessité est arrivée. » Il a craché.
« Comment oses-tu? Je n’ai rien ! Je n’ai rien sans mon enfant ! C’est toi, tu as tous ce que tu veux-»
« Tais-toi! Elle est folle, ton enfant, elle sera bientôt sur le point de mourir! Quand oublieras-tu la passé et te concentreras-tu à l’avenir ? Paris est en danger des forces étrangères. Si nous restions là sans rien faire-»
« Je vous écoute ! Terry ! » a-t-Anne poussé des cris.
Je n’ai réagi qu’en baissant ma voix. « Pourquoi penses-tu que je l’ai dit à Anne ? »
« Pas encore, évidemment-»
« Je vais lui dire maintenant. »
« Et quoi, alors ? Ce que tu as dit à Juan ? »
« Qui sait quel rôle je vais jouer aujourd’hui ?» j’ai dit énigmatiquement.
J’ai ouvert la porte pendant que Philip a disparu aux ténèbres de la pièce voisine.
« Anne. Montrez-moi. »
Anne n’a pas du tout hésité à me donner la note de suicide.
Je lui ai mené dans le salon. C’était une interprétation maintenant. J’ai allumé la platine pour que la musique de Juan puisse m’accompagner avec l’air mystérieux.
Anne a deviné tout de suite.  « C’est l’enregistrement de Juan ? »
« Qui d’autre ? » J’ai dit du ton condescendant. « Et je sais ce que vous pensez. Que j’ai trahi Gérard parce que je ne le lui ai donné pas. Ma raison était simple. Je ne pouvais pas le laisser partir. Cela aurait signifié que j’avais oublié Juan. Ma connexion avec lui était si forte que je devais garder l’enregistrement. »
« C’était quoi, votre connexion ? Que l’aviez-vous tué ? » Anne a demandé.
« Les agents de la Falange l’a tué. »
« Ce n’était pas suicide ? Mais vous lui avez dit quelque chose. Quelque chose qui l’a affecté…»
« La même chose que je vais vous dire. Maintenant. Êtes-vous prête ? C’est une vérité de la  puissance incroyable. »
« Vous avez pour but de me détruire ? »
« Ca dépend. Voudriez-vous vous asseoir ? »
Comme si elle était dans un rêve, elle est tombée dans la chaise.

We’ll launch a new competition at the same time next year, and we look forward as always to the wildly creative contributions we receive.

French Film Competition 2017

 

posted by Jenny Oliver and Jonathan Patterson

2017 sees the sixth year of Oxford University’s French film competition, in which school pupils are invited to watch (a) selected French film(s), and write an essay or script re-imagining the ending. As in previous years, the competition was open to students across secondary school year groups, and in 2017 we received almost 100 entries, from over 40 different schools.

The judges were delighted by the incredibly strong field of applications, and hugely enjoyed reading (and watching!) the entries. Across the age ranges, students from across the country had clearly enjoyed tackling the creative challenge set. This year, entrants were given the choice of two films in each category: one ‘classic’, and one contemporary. Shortlisting was not easy; there were a great number of highly inventive pieces that showed impressive maturity. The most successful entries managed to develop plot and character convincingly from the tone established in earlier scenes, picking up smoothly from the set starting-point, with compelling dialogue and plausible innovations, all within the specified limit of 1500 words.

The winner of the years 7-11 category was Sophie Still, whose screenplay re-imagining of the ending of Jean de Florette both captured the mood and character of the film and dramatically reworked the ending. Runner-up in this category was Dylan Ferguson for his humorous and imaginative reworking of Mic Macs. Highly commended by the judges were Peter James Cocks and Ella Keith, while Caroline Mirza, Sarah Shah, Charlotte Cheah, Lucy Horobin, Arabella Hall and Carol Habib were all commended.

In the older age category (years 12-13) the winner was Lidija Beric for her brilliant and ingenious reworking of Paris Nous Appartient, which perfectly captures the darkness and complexity of the original. Runner-up is Matilda Butterworth, who impressed the judges with her vibrant and tonally sensitive new ending to Microbe et Gasoil. In this category, Sophie Daisy Elliott and Eilidh Morrice Lang were highly commended, while commendations go to Ilana Pearce, Lucy Morgan,Tom Owens, Louisa Van Aeken, Beth Molyneux, Finlay Marum, and Ella Williams.

We’ll be posting some extracts from the winning entries on next week’s blog.

 

Some more specific notes from the judges on the entries for individual films follow below:

 

Jean de Florette: Pagnol’s classic received a large number of entries, many of which were very promising. A number of excellent entries majored on the divided loyalties of Ugolin; others gave a fresh perspective to the Soubeyran deception as perceived through Manon’s eyes. The most convincing entries were those that developed the motifs of tragedy, greed and/or revenge, engaging all the main characters, with a strong sense of cinematographic drama.

Mic Macs: the best entries were humorous and imaginative, but balanced this with great attention to plot and character motivation, and kept the underlying topic of the arms trade clearly in sight. Many entries developed the psychological profile of Bazil and/or his relationship with Elastic Girl, and quite a few played in dramatic ways with the competitive dynamics between the villains Marconi and de Fenouillet.

Microbe et Gasoil: the most successful re-imaginings of the ending maintained convincing characterisation, but added a significant twist to the denouement. Many entries reflected sensitively and thoughtfully on the relationship between the two main protagonists, and several very successfully maintained director Michel Gondry’s quirky and distinctive sense of tone.

Paris Nous Appartient: rewriting Rivette’s complex, contorted screenplay was a demanding task, and the judges were extremely impressed with the overall standard of entries. Several played on the motif of appartenance with considerable sophistication. In keeping with the original, the very best entries were those which shifted the action around Paris, offering terse dialogue and unexpected plot twists that did not attempt to resolve or demystify the dénouement to a neat conclusion.

Harry Potter and the Rosetta Stone

 

posted by Oxford’s Creative Multilingualism project

When Creative Multilingualism hosted LinguaMania at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, the Greek and Roman sculpture gallery was taken over by a crowd-sourced version of Harry Potter. During the evening event, visitors to the gallery were asked to help translate Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone sentence-by-sentence into whichever languages they happened to know. The translations were written on a giant scroll rolled out along the length of the gallery, allowing visitors to see Oxford’s linguistic diversity unfold.

The activity was entitled “Harry Potter and the Rosetta Stone”, with a nod in the direction of the British Museum, home to the Rosetta Stone itself. It proved to be one of the most popular at LinguaMania and people queued up to be able to contribute and engage with this celebration of Oxford’s linguistic talents. During the course of the evening, the team collected over 88 translated sentences in 51 different languages, ranging from Chinese and Esperanto to Welsh. Towards the end of the event, the scroll moved to the Atrium in the centre of the Ashmolean Museum and was unfurled over the balcony, allowing LinguaMania participants to see the many translations which had been collected. This was followed by a recitation of a section of Harry Potter in various languages, so that visitors to LinguaMania could hear as well as see the hidden multilingualism in Oxford’s community.

The activity was conceived and organised by doctoral students Henriette Arndt, Annina Hessel and Anna-Maria Ramezanzadeh from the Oxford University Department of Education. In the below video they describe why they chose Harry Potter to help highlight Oxford’s linguistic diversity and explain how the activity gives participants the opportunity to showcase their creativity through translation. You can see photos of Harry Potter and the Rosetta Stone below.

 

Bringing Proust’s Imaginary Music to Life

posted by Jennifer Rushworth

Many people will have heard of Proust’s ‘madeleine’ moment, where a piece of cake dipped in tea has the power to revive full technicolour memories of the narrator’s past.

Fewer people will have delved further into Proust’s long novel A la recherche du temps perdu (translated originally as Remembrance of Things Past and more recently as In Search of Lost Time). Even first-year French students at Oxford only read the first two hundred pages of the first volume, Du côté de chez Swann (Swann’s Way/The Way by Swann’s). And there are seven volumes in total to get through (not unlike that more modern classic, Harry Potter…)!

Do read on, however, and you will encounter one of my favourite characters and some of my favourite passages. Meet Vinteuil, a composer. Vinteuil is a strange composer, however, for he is purely fictional or imaginary.

Early readers of Proust’s novel were obsessed with identifying the man behind the mask, and suggested a number of famous French composers whose music you may have heard or played: Saint-Saëns, Debussy, Ravel, Fauré, Franck… In contrast, more recently readers have quite rightly tended instead to read Vinteuil as pointing not to any real composer, but rather as a specifically literary, entirely imaginary manifestation.

What does it mean for a composer to be fictional or imaginary? It means that their music is essentially silent, heard only in language, and often mediated by the written responses of different characters within the novel.

From Proust’s novel we have only sparse details about Vinteuil’s life. He was a village organist and piano teacher, widowed, and with a daughter. His music earned him neither fame nor riches during his lifetime. Yet two of Vinteuil’s compositions emerge in the novel as sublime works of genius: a sonata for piano and violin, and a septet (a piece for seven instruments, which are never entirely coherently listed by Proust).

Generously supported by the John Fell OUP Research Fund, I am leading a project this academic year (2016–17) to bring to life Vinteuil’s violin sonata.

How can Proust’s novel act as a catalyst for new pieces of music? And what will these new compositions tell us about how musicians read and respond to Proust’s literary music?

Two undergraduate students in Music at Worcester College, Oxford have been commissioned each to write a violin sonata responding to the passages from Proust’s novel where Vinteuil’s sonata is heard and described. These passages have been wonderfully translated into English by a team of undergraduates in French at Oxford, led by Madeleine Chalmers (Cambridge), and can be consulted here in both French and English.

If you can, do join us for a free final concert on Friday 5 May 2017 at the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, to hear these new commissions, alongside readings from Proust’s novel. Free tickets can be booked here.

Alternatively, the new music will be also be available and recorded online, so do check back in May to hear the music of Vinteuil newly imagined by two student composers.

For more information and to explore this project further, please consult the website: https://proustandmusic.wordpress.com/

Letters Home: Le Lunch

In the second Letter Home from our archive, Sam Gormley,  French student at St Hugh’s, and year-abroad hotel-worker in the Auvergne, tells of trouble at the hotel reception. New weekly posts from next Wednesday.

Recently, a woman came to reception to ask for her ‘lunch’. It being a calm point of the day- that particular day was a Wednesday, I think, or a Monday, it doesn’t matter- I had just been quietly minding my own business. The sun was out, I was emptying the dishwasher, nothing special, it was a Wednesday or a Monday, maybe a Thursday, and I was minding mes oignons. 

She asks me for her ‘lunch’.

I merrily ask her to repeat the request.

‘Mon lunch’.

All I hear is ‘moleurrncsh’. I ask her, apologetic, to repeat again.

[With annoyance] ‘Tu sais? Leleeurrrnsch que j’avais commandé hier?’

Nope, sorry, still….

…still not getting it.

She looks at me as if I were an idiot, as if this were all a joke, a hilarious joke on my part, and that no, really, ha!, I know what your ‘leeurrnsch’ is, this just a set-up, you’re actually on television right now, joke’s on you! I ask her again to repeat, and by now I’ve gone bright red, I’m floundering like a beached whale, at least, one that can’t speak French, and, somewhere, all my past languages teachers vomit simultaneously.

She then proceeds to mime shoving food into her face, into her unimpressed French face.

And it suddenly twigs. She’s saying ‘lunch’.

Lunch! Yes! YES. I know what that is! At that point I slapped myself on the forehead, jabbering something about being an idiot, how could I not know what ‘lunch’ meant, and I probably looked like a psychopath and she probably reached into her pocket and quietly started dialling for the police.

Now, as an Englishman, I am generally expected to have a decent grasp of English. But ‘lunch’ throws me entirely. ‘Lunch’.  An English word. I failed to comprehend my own language. I hand the woman her panier pique-nique, which is the set phrase I’m used to, still jabbering pathetic apologies, and she nods and gives me a chilling, sarcastic smile and takes her plastic bag of food.

Fortunately, this has only happened once since I’ve been in working in the hotel. Actually, it’s less common to hear nonsense like that than it is to see it. A few days previously, I notice these words on an advert:

‘Le top shopping sensation!’

No, France, wrong. That’s wrong. That’s not French. That’s English. I am English, trust me, that’s not French. There are lots of these floating around, including, but by no means limited to:

– un total-look

– Stabiloter (i.e., to underline something with a Stabilo highlighter)

– une garden-party

– un one-man-show

– un brunch

It’s a strange phenomenon, but one the student of French just simply has to accept, especially when the English word used does not even seem to make any real sense in English. It’s all part of language change and, love it or hate it, it exists, and the French bloody well love it. If anything it adds to the exciting unpredictability (read: maddening unpredictability) of studying a foreign language. But it also adds to its richness; many bizarre conversations are to be had with foreigners on the subject of word-swapping. Not only do you learn about the way in which a modern French person speaks, you also learn about the huge number of French expressions in English. Here’s the catch: they don’t mean anything in French either. I used the phrase ‘un double-entendre’ when explaining to a French person, well, what a double-entendre was. We all know what it means in English: to a French person? Nothing at all. Just nothing. Not even a flicker. The just heard the words ‘twice-hear’ put together for no reason. So it’s as strange for them as it is for us. When you do travel experiences like this, in France, or Germany, or wherever you go for your Year Abroad, you come face to face with the reality of language as it’s really spoken by people (which, incidentally, is nothing like how you’ll speak it for your GCSE or A-levels- but that’s a matter for another time), and not the kind of French the Académie française wants us to learn. For better or for worse (often for worse, especially when stupid stuff happens to modern language students), languages change. All we can do is deal with it, adapt, move on, and then sob silently when no-one’s watching.

(For my Year Abroad (2012-13) I worked: as a language assistant in primary schools in Briançon, in the Alps, for seven months; then as a waiter/ receptionist/ barman for two months in a hotel in the Auvergne (South-Centre); and finally as an au-pair for three boys, still in the Auvergne, for two months. This article been adapted from a blog post I wrote whilst I was working in the hotel, hence the lack of context.)

Letters Home: The Year Abroad Game

In case you are going away over the Easter break, this week and next week we’re re-posting a couple of letters home from our travelling students on their modern languages year abroad in the third year of the degree. First, from Rowan Lyster, who studied French and Linguistics at Somerville, the Year Abroad Game:

I’ve decided it’s time that the secret competitiveness of being-on-a-year-abroad was made official, and have created the Year Abroad Game. Rewards are measured in smug-points; any inconsistencies in the rules are down to artistic licence (and definitely not the fact I couldn’t be bothered to make up a proper scoring system).

START: You find yourself trapped in a foreign land where nobody has heard of Doctor Who. Will you survive? 

Gain 5 points for each cool attraction you discover in your new hometown.

Such as the ice rink, which has a disco section complete with a light tunnel and hills. In classic French style, this is completely dark, and full of terrifyingly reckless locals. Great fun, despite frequent near-death experiences.

Gain 2 points (and a few pounds) every time you sample a local foodstuff

such as crêpes, of which I’ve eaten a shocking number since discovering the heaven-in-a-pancake that is Nutella with Speculoos-spread.

Gain 10 points if you wring a smile out of one of the bitter and twisted administrators you’ll no doubt encounter.

Such as the receptionist of my accommodation, who regularly tells off residents for the heinous crime of asking for our post. After a determined campaign of sickly sweet bonjour’s, I miraculously got a friendly smile back.

Lose 15 points and go back 3 spaces if you let out a snarky comment to one of the bitter and twisted administrators who’ll no doubt be pointlessly rude to you.

Believe me, the former is ultimately a better way of getting things done.

Gain 30 points if you get a non-disastrous haircut during your time abroad.

I managed this the other day, despite an alarming lack of French hairdressing vocabulary. Aside from nearly accepting an unwanted fringe, it went surprisingly well!

Gain 20 points if you go on a spontaneous trip with no particular destination in mind.

We accidentally did this after attempting to go to Nîmes by bus (it turns out there is no bus to Nîmes, despite the confident assertions of 6-8 locals who sent us on a frankly impressive wild goose chase). After giving up on Nîmes, we hopped on a bus and ended up in Pézenas, a gorgeous town an hour or so away.

 

 

Pézenas

Gain 15 points for each new town you visit.

The Nîmes story has a happy ending; we finally made it there (by train) the other day!

 

 

We saw this gem…

 

 

…and this badass.

Gain A MILLION POINTS if you ever manage to actually receive CAF (the French housing allowance).

I was lulled into a false sense of security by a letter saying I’d been approved for this, but apparently that’s just a hilarious prank they like to play before asking you for every document you’ve ever heard of and a lot that you haven’t. On the plus side, there’s free money available to anyone willing to undergo the seven labours of Hercules.

Lose 1 point every time you accidentally insert snippets of English e.g. ‘yknow,’ and ‘like,’ into your target language.

This is particularly embarrassing in official meetings.

Gain 10 points for each new hobby you take up.

I’ve joined a walking group. Yes, I have become my parents… It’s actually a great way of exploring, as the people with cars drive everyone to somewhere cool.

Gain 15 points per nationality for all the international students you manage to befriend.

So far I’ve met people from Germany, Spain, Italy, Algeria, America, Switzerland, Poland, Brazil and Hungary.

Gain 30 points if you do something ridiculously brave that you’d never do at home.

I went with a German friend to a café that had libre-service instruments, and eventually decided to go for the plunge and play the piano in public. Nobody booed, although hell may have frozen over.

Wild card: OH MY GOD ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN if you completely change your plans for the year.

By ‘completely’ I mean ‘quite a lot’ – I’m moving house at Christmas and have replaced a lot of my study-time with volunteering-time, which conveniently involves interacting with Actual French People.

Gain 100 points if you get mistaken for a French person by another foreigner.

This has happened to me a few times, albeit briefly. I’m also often asked if I’m German, due to my Nordic good looks (I like to think).

And if you get mistaken for a French person by an Actual French Person

Go home, you have won. 

 

Why is there an earthquake in Candide?

posted by Catriona Seth

As the ship on which Candide is sailing nears Lisbon at the end of chapter 5, the sky becomes gloomy : ‘l’air s’obscurcit, les vents soufflèrent des quatre coins du monde, et le vaisseau fut assailli de la plus horrible tempête’. Candide, Pangloss and ‘ce brutal de matelot qui avait noyé le vertueux anabaptiste’ are the only ones on board who survive the storm and as they set foot in town, they feel the earth quake beneath their feet. Voltaire gives a graphic description of what happens. He was drawing on a recent historic event.

An 18th-century engraving of the Lisbon earthquake

 

On November 1st 1755, Lisbon, at the time the third largest port in Europe, was hit by a terrible earthquake and tsunami. Much of the city was destroyed. In the following days, reports speaking of 100 000 deaths reached Geneva where Voltaire was living. These were certainly excessive, but they bear witness to the magnitude of the catastrophe, which is still considered to have been one of the deadliest earthquakes ever.

Voltaire was so distressed by the news that he set about writing a long poem. He called it Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne ou Examen de cet axiome ‘Tout est bien’. He speaks of the innocent lives lost and can find no justification for why Lisbon should have been wiped off the face of the earth rather than similar cities like Paris or London.

‘Tout est bien’ refers to the doctrine of optimism: thinking that on the whole ‘tout va pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes possibles’, as the fictional Pangloss would say. Optimism was defended by the German philosopher Leibniz in his 1710 Theodicy, which justifies the existence of evil. He claimed the world could not have been better: to suggest it was imperfect, he believed, was like accusing God of not being up to the task he had set himself.

Following the earthquake, the philosophy of optimism no longer seemed defensible to someone like Voltaire. As he wrote to a correspondant on November 30th 1755, ‘Vous savez l’horrible événement de Lisbonne […] voilà un terrible argument contre l’optimisme.’

Candide was published four years after the terrible events, in 1759, and with the subtitle ou l’optimisme’. In the book, the earthquake comes hot on the heels of a battle-scene. The slaughter is a manmade disaster. The earthquake is a natural one. You cannot blame anyone for it, in the way you might accuse a bellicose general of making his troops fight. The generous and virtuous Anabaptist drowns at the beginning of the episode set in and around Lisbon, whilst the wicked sailor survives. There is nothing moral about this. It clearly shows that all is not well.

During the whole of the ‘conte’, Candide, whose name means he is candid or naïve, is made to learn through experience (and through unlearning what Pangloss has erroneously taught him). Here he is shown that the force of nature cannot be controlled and that sometimes innocents die when criminals survive. This is an illustration of the fact that Pangloss’ philosophy (optimism) does not offer an acceptable explanation of the world. A number of other passages in the text show this in different ways, like the encounter with the ‘Nègre de Surinam’, a slave mutilated by his nasty owner.

Illustration by Norman Tealby for a translation of Candide (1928)

 

Just after the earthquake in Candide, the Lisbon authorities organise an auto-da-fé: literally an ‘act of faith’, supposed to ward off any future disasters by torturing heretics. Voltaire is very sceptical of such actions. Since earthquakes have physical causes, there is no way that burning criminals will have any effect on their occurrence. The university of Coimbra’s supposed pronouncement that ‘le spectacle de quelques personnes brûlées à petit feu, en grande cérémonie, est un secret infaillible pour empêcher la terre de trembler’ is obviously ironic. Voltaire shows us (and this is a subject to which he frequently returned in his writings) that too often punishments do not fit the crime.

Even the severity of the alleged ‘crimes’ is called into question. One of the people put to death before Candide’s eyes has married his godchild’s godmother—an arcane rule of the Catholic Church said that if you were godparents to the same child you were technically related and therefore could not marry. The two others are executed because they removed the bacon in which some chicken had been cooked: this is thought to reveal their fidelity to the Jewish faith. Though Voltaire believed in God, he thought that established religion served to divide and not to unite people. This scene, depicting the public burning of people who simply failed to conform to what seem to be arbitrary and even insignificant ‘rules’, allows him both to condemn superstitious attitudes to natural catastrophes, and to imply that the world would be better off if reason—rather than blind faith and a slavish adherence to religious doctrine—were to triumph.

An example of an auto-da-fé

 

So, to recap, there are several reasons why the earthquake matters:

  • It is a historical event which would have been familiar to Voltaire’s contemporaries.
  • It is a way of showing that natural disasters are not selective in the victims they make.
  • It forces Candide to start facing facts: all is not always for the best.
  • It demonstrates that optimism is a fallible philosophy.
  • It provokes the the auto-da-fé, which shows that religion can be bloodthirsty, and that by encouraging superstitious actions, the Church is clearly pulling the wool over peoples’ eyes.

Candide is known in French as a ‘Conte philosophique’, a philosophical tale. This is because it is a fictional story which is often quite amusing, but one which sets out to teach us something profound and not just to entertain us. Candide’s learning curve is meant to function for the reader too. Like him, we should be asking ourselves what conclusions can be drawn from his different adventures.

Ninety-Six Percent

posted by Simon Kemp

96%. That’s the satisfaction rate among our students with the French undergraduate course at Oxford.

That compares with an average of 93% satisfaction for courses across Oxford university, a satisfaction rate of 88% for courses across the ‘Russell Group’ of universities, and a satisfaction rate of 84% for undergraduate courses in all UK universities.

We’re very proud of that achievement, and always working hard to make sure our course is the best, most challenging and stimulating course that we can make it.

You can explore statistics on many aspects of our French course here, and through the Unistats link to the government website, you can compare data on our course with those at other universities. (If you do, one odd statistic I noticed is the suggestion that our French course has ‘0% coursework’. I presume they mean ‘0% compulsory coursework’, which is true, but in practice almost all our students choose to include at least one coursework portfolio or dissertation project among their final exams.)

Note too that 92% of our students agreed that teaching staff were good at explaining things to them (which leaves a little room for improvement still, but compares very well to our rival institutions), and 90% of students were in full-time work or study (such as Masters courses) six months after graduating. The excellent employability prospects of a modern languages degree, from here at Oxford or from anywhere else, is something we’ve talked about before, and really can’t emphasise enough.

Les Podcasts dangereux

posted by Simon Kemp

So, you have a room to tidy, a dog to walk, some washing up to do. How, you wonder, can you use your time most productively?

If only, you think to yourself, there was a bite-size podcast available that would keep you informed and entertained for a few minutes until the room was tidy….

Maybe a podcast about one of the most celebrated and notorious works in all French literature, offering fascinating facts and new insights into the novel and its author?

Perhaps a podcast featuring Oxford professors chatting to famous playwrights, contemporary novelists, and the man behind the ‘Dangerous Tweets’ project?

So, a few minutes later, not only will the dog be walked, but you’ll be enriched with a new understanding of a classic text.

Well, wonder no more! As the first of our ‘5×5’ series of short podcasts, Catriona Seth, Oxford’s Marshal Foch Professor of French literature, presents five takes on Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

You can find all the podcasts here:

http://www.mod-langs.ox.ac.uk/5×5/les-liaisons-dangereuses

They include an introduction to the turbulent life and times of Laclos, the author, himself

….an interview with Christopher Hampton, writer of the celebrated stage version of the novel and the famous film adaptation starring Glenn Close and John Malkovich…

…and a talk with the author of a recent sequel to the novel, Murderous Liaisons, along with the genius behind the twitter rewrite, Dangerous Tweets (The Dangerous Tweets themselves can be found here).

Les Derniers Jedi

posted by Simon Kemp

When the title of Star Wars Episode VIII was released a few weeks ago, speculation was feverish. Who was The Last Jedi?

Was it him?

…in which case, is Rey not going to be a Jedi after all?

Or was it her?

…in which case, was Luke Skywalker heading for a sticky end, leaving Rey as the sole remaining Jedi?

Or was it someone else entirely?

Certain regions of the internet were abuzz with many arguments but few answers.

And then, a month or so later the official French translation of the title appeared (along with various other languages too, of course):

…and suddenly, everything was much clearer. The Last Jedi is plural!

Rather like sheep, Jedi, it turns out, do not change in the plural form. So, just as you wouldn’t be able to tell if The Last Sheep was a film about a lone ewe or a whole woolly flock, The Last Jedi is ambiguous about how many Jedi are involved.

In French, though, the English definite article the has to be translated as either le, la or les, to agree with the gender and number of the noun that follows it. In the same way, last must become dernier, dernière, derniers or dernières, forcing the translator to specify whether we’re talking about one or several, male or female Jedis.

So, while The Last Jedi could be about pretty much anyone, Les Derniers Jedi is most definitely a film about two or more Jedi, at least one of whom is male.

It was the gift of the French language to sci-fi nerds everywhere. The French newspaper Le Figaro covered the happy moment in detail here. Here’s a short extract:

Fin janvier, le titre anglais The Last Jedi du huitième épisode de la saga avait engendré de nombreuses théories chez les fans. Ce vendredi matin, la franchise a révélé la traduction française.

Les fans ont eu raison de se méfier, la saga Star Wars a encore une fois habilement brouillé les pistes. Ce vendredi matin, la franchise rachetée par Disney a dévoilé sur son compte Facebook la traduction française du titre du huitième épisode: Les derniers Jedi. Un détail pour certains, un bouleversement pour d’autres.

(If you follow the link to the article, it’s worth also scrolling down to the comments, in which French Star Wars fans excitably debate with each other how English plurals work, and proudly declare the whole episode as evidence that ‘le français est une langue bien plus riche que l’anglais’.)

The ‘last Jedi’/’derniers Jedi’ issue actually illustrates a common problem for translators. In one language, the word or phrase you’re translating has a different scope from what it has in the other language, where it’s either more general or more specific.

Say, for example, you’re translating a French text containing the word ‘étudiante’.

The obvious choice would be ‘student’, but the English word includes male students (‘étudiant in French) as well as female ones, and also includes school students (more usually ‘élève’ in French) as well as university ones. The English word is more general than the French one.

Now let’s say that, later in the same text, you have to translate the word ‘belle-mère’.

You now have the opposite problem. The French word ‘belle-mère’ can mean both ‘step-mother’ and ‘mother-in-law’. The two English words are each more specific than the broader French one.

The solution you decide on will depend on several factors, including:

  • the context of the source text (can you work out which of the two English options the belle-mère actually is?)

 

  • the relevance of the information (does the reader need to know the gender of the student or not? If so, do they need to know right now that she’s female, or can the translator slip in a subtle ‘she’ or ‘her’ later on in the text instead?)

 

  • and the style and purpose of the translation (‘the mother-in-law, or, as the case may be, stepmother’ might be an appropriate rendering if you’re translating a legal contract. If you’re translating a poem, not so much).

It’s a nice example of what makes translation a tricky and fascinating business. Languages never quite map onto each other exactly, and translating between them is never a straightforward matter of replacing words in one language with their equivalents in another. Rather, you have to negotiate your way between two different systems, balancing the need for accuracy with a desire to be stylish or sound natural. Sometimes you may decide to leave out information that you can’t find a practical way to include in your translation (‘the female university student’), and sometimes you may even have to take a best guess about something the source text doesn’t make clear (‘her stepmother, or, you know, possibly her mother-in-law, I can’t really be sure).

Often, language differences can cause real problems for the struggling translator. Sometimes, though, as with the title of Star Wars Episode VIII, a simple difference can make a big change, and the translator can make everyone happy. Apart, perhaps, from the film-makers at Disney who were hoping to keep everyone guessing for a while longer…

A blog for students and teachers of Years 11 to 13, and anyone else with an interest in French language and culture, written by the staff and students of Oxford University. Updated every Wednesday!