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Pardon their French

French usage in anglophone media can range from “pretty respectable” to “was that supposed to be French?” I hope to look at that full range in this mini-series of posts.

Let’s start on a relatively high note:

Sherlock Holmes (2009) casts Robert Downey Jr. as the titular character alongside Jude Law as Dr. Watson. I hope it doesn’t spoil this five year-old movie for you when I say there is fighting involved (albeit often in clever ways), and one of the bad guys is a francophone giant called Dredger. Holmes hears him speak French, and is apparently never one to back down from an excuse to practice his conversation, as you can see a little of in this clip:

Now, the giant, played by real-life huge person Robert Maillet, is a native Canadian French speaker, so his French is fine (the deep voice and the fighting might make it sound slightly different, but it’s authentic). What’s impressive is RDJ’s passable accent and delivery (there’s more than what you see in the above clip) is pretty good, especially considering how difficult it is to act in a foreign language. Plus, there’s always the excuse of British arrogance to excuse any slight accent he might retain; sure, Sherlock would be able to master French, but why bother pandering to their elitist pronunciations?

One semi-goof: the script was written in English, and only later did the director find out that their giant actor was a native French speaker. One piece of dialogue is an unfortunate victim of translation: the giant is supposed to say, “Did you miss me?” with “miss” carrying the double meanings of sentimentality and attack. The problem is, French has the weirdest possible way to express sentimentally missing someone; when the giant says, “Tu m’as manqué?” this carries only the meaning of “Did (your attack) miss me?” and would mean ‘Did I miss you?’ when used with the sentimental meaning. Did the writers/actor choose the right one for the line? Does it really matter? You be the judge.

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