February 11, 2020  (Web Review)

The Miracle of The Little Prince

(2019) 93 min. In French, Tibetan, Tamzight, Sámi, and Nahuatl w/English subtitles. DVD: $24.99. Film Movement (avail. from most distributors). Closed captioned.

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

The enormous popularity of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s titular 1943 tale of a pilot’s encounter with a young alien prince is reflected in its place among the most-translated of all books. That fact alone would justify the title of Marjoleine Boonstra’s documentary, but the film has a narrower focus, mainly concentrating on efforts to render the text in languages that are in danger of extinction. The material is subdivided into four chapters, devoted to versions of the book in the Tamazight spoken by Berbers in North Africa, the Sámi tongue native to regions of northern Scandinavia, the Aztec-derived Nahuatl vernacular suppressed by Spanish conquerors and now confined to the elderly in El Salvador, and Tibetan, a language that is effectively being driven out of existence by Chinese overlords. Each section introduces one or more translators who emphasize the importance of the language to the preservation of their culture and explain how Saint-Exupéry’s book speaks to them directly. Kerttu Vuolab, the Sámi translator, connects the story to her sister’s tragic death when they were children, the bullying she herself endured in boarding school where she was forced to learn Finnish, and the opportunity to work on the translation with her mother, while two Tibetan translators do their work as a form of protest in exile. Some linguistic matters are also examined: three elderly Salvadoran women debate what word would best reflect the original (for instance, they have no equivalent for “rose,” a flower introduced by the Spanish). Long recitations from the translations and extensive artsy background footage of the various regions can make for occasional tedium, but overall this is an interesting look at the role The Little Prince has played in preserving endangered languages. A strong optional purchase. Aud: C, P. (F. Swietek)