Tuesday, November 16, 2010

International Cinema

It is curious to note the approach various cultures have towards international cinema. In Latin America, the rule of thumb is for all films that are not aimed primarily at kids to be subtitled. This allows the audience to experience the film as it was intended, but with an aid for understanding. Many people in Latin America learn English in school, and since that is the language of most foreign films there, they have a limited ability to understand the film without the subtitles, but most people need them. The curious thing for people who do know both languages (both the original and the subtitled) is to see where the words have been changed, either for clarity or to overcome a cultural barrier.

Germany and some other parts of Europe prefer to have their foreign films dubbed. This causes some delay for a lot of films as they have to go through the process, and that is not always planned for before the world-wide release date. More problematic is the way films tend to be dumbed-down in the dubbing. For some reason, translators do not trust the audience to get the point. They regularly eliminate irony, simile, and any other creative language used. Often, they will change the whole point of a phrase for no apparent reason. For these reasons, many film fans in these parts campaign for films to be shown in their “original version.”

The USA is completely different. They see limited use of subtitles, and slightly more (also poorly done) dubbing. Mostly, however, American audiences cannot be trusted to even see foreign films. They need for the best cinema of other lands to be completely redone in English, with American actors and re-imagined into an American (and insular) context. It is a shame really.

To be fair, it is hard for a person to enjoy a film that is in a completely unknown language and coming from a context that is totally foreign to the viewer. One needs some practice experiencing other perspectives before one can appreciate what those perspectives have to offer.

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