Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Inside the Des Voix Mind: Michelle Haner on Léonore Confino and "One Upon Another"

For a translator, taking on the work of a contemporary playwright, especially one as playful and provocative as Léonore Confino, can be a bit like taking a trip down the rabbit-hole.  While hanging out the unknown found there, ideally, that time is spent not just obsessing over the "blades of grass" (the word-to-word stuff), but also discovering a greater landscape, one forged of rhythms, sounds, atmospheres, themes and of course characters. 

Michelle Haner, Translator
In the process of rendering Confino’s world from French to English, questions of translation range from the logistically banal (should I transpose euros, kilos and the names of products and supermarkets?) to the culturally subtle (how to translate that sense of lightness, irony, melancholy or “je ne sais quoi” embedded in a particular turn of phrase?)

In Confino’s portrait of a contemporary French family, three generations “one upon another”, alternately imploding and exploding, the voices of the characters are a particularly rich, vital part of her landscape. Voices come from beyond the grave; voices lose their bodies and resonate through the pre-fabricated house. Seeking to capture their distinct, vital qualities in translation has been both exciting – and particularly challenging.  There is the broken, breathless, sometimes frantic voice of the over-taxed mother; the loving, but ‘oft evasive voice of the scientist –husband; the ironic, bitter, profanity-laced voice of the wheel chair bound grandfather.  Most powerful, poignant and challenging are the voices of the children, smart, savvy, funny, self-aware and heart breaking in their brutality, their nihilism, their despair. Theirs is a language infiltrated with new tech-inspired inventions and pop cultural references, not to mention such French adolescent mainstays as Anglicism’s and “vers-langue” (a popular French slang created by saying words literally backwards).

Léonore Confino, Playwright

It is as much through the specificity of these voices – as through her unique mix of drama and slapstick, tragedy and comedy, real and surreal – that Confino probes the French family of today, offering up a portrait of a society in flux, in tension, in uncertainty and self-reflection. 

Having so enjoyed the opportunity to spend this time exploring Confino’s world, the translator’s humble hope is simply that she has been somewhat successful in rendering up an English-language version, that Confino’s vision may be shared with a wider audience.

-Michelle Haner, Translator of One Upon Another by Léonore Confino.

Staged Readings of "Les uns sur les autres" or One Upon Another by Léonore Confino will be on Saturday, May 10 @ 2pm and Sunday, May 11 @ 7:30pm at the Tides Theatre, as a part of the Des Voix Festival. 

Des Voix...Biennial 2014: A Festival of New French Plays and Cinema features the American Premiere of Communiqué n˚10, three new French Plays in translation, five french film screenings and a Bal Littéraire, a New Play Night Club.  

Purchase a Full Festival Pass here and gain access to every reading, film, Bal Littéraire and your choice of Communique n˚10 performance during Des Voix!

Check out the Des Voix Festival website for more information, including links to buy tickets, a full festival schedule and directions on how to find where the Left Bank Meets the Left Coast.  

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