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The making of the new drama Everybody Knows included an interesting challenge that most film productions don’t face. While the film is set in Spain, and features Spanish actors speaking almost exclusively Spanish, it’s made by an Iranian filmmaker, Oscar-nominated Asghar Farhadi, who doesn’t know the language. You might think that this would present an impossible challenge to overcome, with there being an ever-present possibility of detail lost in translation on set, but that crisis was entirely averted thanks to two expert translators – who I learned about recently from stars Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem.
In recent weeks I had the opportunity to hop on the phone with the two actors for separate interviews discussing their work on Everybody Knows, and one subject that I brought up during both conversations was the language barrier. Cruz and Bardem noted that Farhadi can speak some English, which they used to talk casually, but when it came to the work the director primarily worked in Persian – which is where the crucial role of the translators came in. Said Cruz,
The communication was never a problem because he didn't speak Spanish, but he spoke some English and he had two amazing translators that never stopped working. And they knew Ashgar very well. So they were translating in a way that was not mechanical. It was about feelings; it was about details. So these two people, these two translators were so important in the entire process.
Sadly the two translators are not credited for their work in Everybody Knows (otherwise I would identify them), but both stars spoke with high praise in regards to their contributions during production. Javier Bardem went as far as to call it a “miracle” – both that Asghar Farhadi has the ability to communicate succinctly and clearly, but also that he had some awesome aides who could help literally translate his vision. Said the actor,
The miracle happened because two things: One, because he really can explain and say a lot by not talking too much, and being very specific, and very pointing without explaining it too much. And second, is that we had two amazing interpreters that were sunset trading off every two days... And they were brilliant. You understand and felt that they were really capable of translating the detail of everything. There was no ‘lost in translation’ at all. We never felt lost in translation at all.
As any filmmaker will tell you, the medium is an immensely collaborative one, and clear communication of ideas is vital as a result. If a director can’t tell an actor what they would like to see changed in a shot, the crew could wind up spending hours filming the exact same thing over and over. Frankly, it says a lot about the boldness of Asghar Farhadi and the impressive confidence he had going into the project with his veteran translators.
Speaking to their contribution, Penelope Cruz went as far as to say that they were not only some of the most important people figures on the set, but actually had one of the most challenging duties to perform:
They were always next to him, one or the other; they were taking turns. They had the most difficult jobs, because imagine the level of concentration for the whole day... The translators made sure that everything that he had in mind was translated. They could not translate in a mechanical, cold way. It has to be about the nuances, the details, and they did an amazing, amazing job.
The effort definitely shows in the beautiful cinematography and excellent performances – and audiences can now see the finished results for themselves. Based on an original screenplay by Asghar Farhadi, the film centers on a woman name Laura (Penelope Cruz) who travels from America with her children back to her hometown in Spain for a family wedding. During the celebration, however, tragedy strikes, and in the process things that were long kept secret come bubbling to the surface, primarily involving Laura’s ex, Paco (Javier Bardem).
Everybody Knows is now out in theaters in limited release, so check your local theaters for screenings.