C'est un "o" rayé, he tells her. This gets a laugh; O rayé means O with a diagonal line strike, this in turn plays on the homophone oreiller, which means pillow.
I missed the rest of the film, too distracted by the idea of how one would move that wonderfully rich language-based joke into English should the film ever be exported to an anglophone market. I actually thought about this for quite some time, years possibly, and concluded that there was no true equivalent. Indeed, when the film eventually was subtitled in English, the subtitler deleted the moment completely.
The task of the translator (or subtitler) is immense. He or she is not only shifting words from one language to another, but (and this is more important), a huge basketful of message which rely on those words is being carried over from the source culture to the target culture . In that basket the translator needs to place intent, emotion, rhythm, rhymes (if he or she is good enough), connotations, jokes, puns (these are really challenging) as well as being mindful of a billion little details such as temporal context (I shudder at the thought of translating Shakespeare, for example, or L'il Wayne, to cite an extreme).
There came a time where I thought literary translations should be outlawed. I saw it as an impossible and futile endeavor. The Italians had a word for translators: traduttore traditore, or traitors, and I shared this sentiment as I couldn't see a way to be faithful and respectful to an original, to do the poem, the story, the instruction manual or the newspaper article justice. It was better just to have original texts and let the onus be on the reader to learn the language if he wanted to access it. (I'm a demanding person, I know.) I agreed with Borges when he said a good poem is always untranslatable.
I thought about this recently when I went to see the movie Moneyball in Paris, and watched much of the audience (French) look bewildered as the story unfolded. How can you deeply enjoy a film about baseball when you have no cultural reference? How would you understand the notion of homeplate, designated hitter, farm teams and free agents? There is no equivalent sport in French so the language and visual references do not exist. No wonder the audience seemed perplexed. It would be like me watching a movie about cricket in Xhosa.
Thanks, Mary Cassatt and Kurt Giambastiani
While I no longer think translations should be illegal (I'd miss being able to criticize the bad ones), I do think translations should be invisible. In other words, we should read a translated work as we read in our mother tongue; receiving in our mind the message hidden behind (or outside of) the words. (The hors-texte if we want to be all Derridian about this.) This is the real obstacle when setting down to move languages from one to another. It's a labor of love, certainly, with a massive dose of patience and a good dictionary or two.