Two years ago, international film releases in the United States reached a new pinnacle with the crowning of Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” as best picture at the Academy Awards. But before “Parasite” or any other non-English-language film even hits theaters, a basic question has to be settled: the title.
Distributors say the title can be the first impression a movie makes on prospective audiences, and so they give it a great deal of thought. How do you translate the original title? Do you add a word or two to clarify? Or do you leave the Spanish or Korean or French as is?
Titles have been a consideration at least since the influx of foreign films in the 1950s and ’60s. When a title sticks, it has a way of enduring: it’s hard to imagine Michelangelo Antonioni’s “L’Avventura” being translated as simply “The Adventure.” The cryptic title “The 400 Blows” didn’t prevent people enjoying that film’s riches. (It’s a reference to a French idiom “faire les quatre cents coups,” commonly rendered as “to raise hell.”)