In the movie, OSS 117, Cairo Nest of Spies, the spy defeats two Russians and the subtitles say something along the lines of

They were "Russian" at me

This makes sense in English, but the movie is in French. There were a couple of other puns in the movie that made sense in English.

Is the movie written for an English-speaking audience even though it's in French, or were those thrown in there?

  • Can you clarify this a little. Was the French dialog equivalent to 'They were Russian at me' or was that just shown in the subtitles.
    – iandotkelly
    Mar 4, 2012 at 23:36
  • @iandotkelly, I'm not sure what the French translation would be (I don't speak French), but that was in the subtitles.
    – mowwwalker
    Mar 5, 2012 at 6:24
  • Do you know when the scene occurs? Maybe we can find that segment online and check. I speak French, so I could tell you what the original joke was. Apr 23, 2012 at 7:18
  • I just watched a couple of scenes on YouTube, they didn't include the one you are mentioning, but the puns were very French. So the English puns must be different. Apr 23, 2012 at 7:46

2 Answers 2


Writing good subtitles is a bit like translating a novel or other fiction, it is more important to convey the meaning or sense of what is going on than translating word for word what the original language was. When translating idioms and jokes in particular do not translate well 'word for word' but there is often an associated phrase which has a similar meaning - a well translated book will work hard at getting a similar feel as well as a similar meaning to the original

Subtitles are slightly harder than the written word, as it looks slightly odd if the length of text and spoken word do not correspond to some degree

In the example you are giving here, it was probably only important to the translator that a jokey pun of some sort was included, to convey the sense of what is going on. It is possible that the French joke does not even refer to 'Russian' - which as you say would only work in English.


I don't know any French, but landed here looking for how many liberties they took with the subtitles. They're throwing English puns in there because the French puns don't translate at all. At one point, Hubert mishears "un groupe hippie" as "un gros pipi", or mishears "hippy commune" as "big tinkle". Not much evolved beyond Austin Powers. :-}

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