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For those of you who are not Yentl fiends like I am, the title is a translation of a line from the first ten minutes of the movie. “Does a goat have a soul?” (“Does it?”) “What came before the universe?” (“I still would like to know!”)

I’m making today a two-post day because as it turns out, I don’t think I’ve ever talked about my abiding love for Yentl on this blog. So, yeah. I love Yentl. I try to be unapologetic, but in the States it’s hard because there is SUCH a stigma against loving that movie. Here, happily, few enough people are familiar with it that I can let my Yentl-fan flag fly and it actually turns out to be an asset.

I get it, I get it, Barbra Streisand doesn’t look like a man. But that’s only problematic if you dwell on it. Otherwise, it’s a visually lovely film, the music is spectacular, and Mandy Patinkin looks great.

Ahem. Yes. It’s also a really great movie to watch with skeptical friends–I have never laughed so much in my life as when I made baked apples and invited people over to watch Yentl last year.

So. Back to the class. We had “scénique” in the afternoon, which meant that everybody had to read/recite a text from one of their arias or songs. This is when I realized that everybody is kind of working on their own repertoire, because several people had musical theater songs–in English–to present. The girl sitting next to me, Annaëlle, went first, and she announced, of all things, “Tomorrow Night” from Yentl. I may have geeked out a little bit.

There is always something very surreal about hearing familiar texts or songs translated into French. I remember going to a church service in October and hearing the Lord’s Prayer and the communion service in French; Disney songs are always fabulous in French, and the original concept album of Les Misérables is a lot of fun to listen to. Annaëlle was singing “Tomorrow Night” in English, but translating it into French for her own benefit, and for the edification of the rest of the class who weren’t reciting it along with her.

What was really funny was that some parts of the song don’t translate especially well into French. One thing was the very first line of the song: “Look at me.” “Who is she talking to?” Christine, our teacher, asked. “Herself?” ventured Annaëlle. (That’s my answer too, since she’s looking at herself in the mirror when the song starts.) Christine hmphed a little, and Annaëlle tried again, “Well, maybe her father, since she mentions him later and he’s dead?” Christine said, “Absolutely, she’s telling her father to look at her.” I’m not sure Christine realized that in English it’s possible to say “Look at me,” without intending anybody to actually do so (because if anybody did actually look at Yentl, they’d realize that she didn’t look anything like a man…).

But the one that really got me was this line. It just does not translate:

Things may not be as they appear,
But the advantages are clear:
He loves her,
She loves him,
He likes me,
I like her,
And I’ve reason to think she likes me.
She keeps him,
He keeps her,
We keep things as they were,
It’s a perfect arrangement for three.

But something that’s always puzzled me about French is that there doesn’t seem a very good way to distinguish between “like” and “love,” as they relate to people. Of course, “I love you” is “Je t’aime,” but then how do you say “I like you”? The way Annaëlle translated it today was “Il l’aime, / Elle l’aime, / Il m’aime bien, / Je l’aime bien…” But once you get to the “bien” part, you’ve already said “Il m’aime” or “je t’aime” so that’s that if somebody stops listening to your sentence.

So Raphaelle, who didn’t know the song, said it sounded like there might be some really interesting sexual undertones going on. Christine, our teacher, agreed; the line with all of the “aimer”ing going on indicated that somewhere in Yentl’s mind was the idea of all three of them–Yentl, Avigdor (Mandy) and Hadas (Amy Irving; Avigdor’s ex-fiancée who ends up married to Yentl/Anschel)–in the same bed. Obviously.

I was like, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. STOP FRENCHING UP MY MOVIE! And then she was talking about how Yentl clearly wanted to split up Avigdor and Hadas, which is why she agreed to marry Hadas in the first place. Because, as Christine says, monstrous wicked characters are much more fun to play, and Yentl is obviously a little devious deep down, and manipulative–not at all the “innocent maiden” that she claims to be.

No no no no no no. I mean, okay, there is some interesting sexual tension in the movie. There always is when a woman is pretending to be a man for any reason, and vice versa. Yentl does get a little distracted by Hadas’ perfume and complexion, and Avigdor thinks there’s something wrong with him because he was attracted to “Anschel” and couldn’t figure out why. But Yentl is, in fact, an innocent–hard though it might be to believe it with Barbra Streisand in the role. Until she realized she was in love with Avigdor, she had no sexual thoughts or feelings, no interest in getting married or in anything beyond her studies, really. And if her motive for marrying Hadas was in part a little selfish (“And being near him is what this is all about…”), there was another part of her that didn’t want to see Avigdor in anguish because he could never see Hadas again.

I tried really hard not to argue with the teacher too much, because there wasn’t much point, but my inner Puritan was screaming and covering its ears. I think it’s a pretty sexy movie–let’s not assign motivations to the characters that just aren’t there. Yentl marries Hadas for Avigdor, not because she wants a threesome. I don’t care how French you are.

And then I tried to tell them why I know that the movie is set in Latvia (because of a single passing reference to Riga when Yentl first meets Avigdor and his yeshiva buddies) and epically failed because I had no idea how to say Latvia. I went with “Latvie,” but it turns out it’s “Lettonie,” which is too close to “Lithuanie” for my taste.

Here, have a song. Not THAT song, because I couldn’t find it, but this one is good too.