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Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

En versión original

I'm going to talk about going to the cinema. Nearly all of this I've talked about before so, old, in the sense of long standing rather than aged, readers you can save yourself some time and stop now.

I've always liked going to the cinema. At the height of it I might go 130 times in a year. When we got to Spain that more or less stopped. Films here are almost universally dubbed into Spanish. There are a few cinemas where it's possible to see films in their original language with subtitles and even a few where you can use a pair of headphones to tune in to an original language version whilst the sound in the cinema is in Spanish. For the main part though, if you go to see a film in Spain it will have a Spanish soundtrack. When our Spanish was worse than it is now we were basically wasting time and money because we couldn't understand much of what was going on.

The dubbing causes problems at times where there is some interplay between actors of different nationalities. For instance I saw one the other day about looking for a lost city in the Amazonian Rainforest. The main protagonist was English and there were lots of references to the Royal Society and suchlike so, when the explorer bumps into some tribe in the middle of the jungle he doesn't say "Do you speak English?" or "Do you speak Spanish?" instead he says "Do you speak my language?" Although it jars a bit it usually works alright.

Obviously enough a large part of any actor's charm is his or her voice. Hearing someone well known speak with the wrong voice, or hearing some well known section from a film spoken with strange words, wrong phrasing and a different rhythm and tone can be most offputting. You get used to it though.

Years ago we went to see Slumdog Millionaire. I mentioned that we were about to go or that we had been to someone who had seen it in the UK. They said that they had had some difficulty in understanding the film themselves and that they thought it would be doubly hard in Spanish. In fact it was an easy film to understand. The difference of course was that, whilst in the original, the Indian actors were speaking in heavily accented English with Indian pronunciations and structures once it had been dubbed into Castilian Spanish it was pretty much grammatically correct.

The same tinkering with what is said happens on the telly. Lots of the programmes are broadcast in dual language. So English language programmes are available dubbed into Spanish for the bulk of the population. All we have to do is fiddle around with the menus a bit and hey presto we have the programme in the original English. This doesn't work so well for us if it turns out to be a French or German series! We watch The Big Bang Theory in English. I usually keep the subtitles on and the subs are, obviously enough, in Spanish. This is so I can understand what Bernadette is saying and so I can pick up on any good slang type expressions. The subtitles do not speak well for the Spanish people. Mention of Wendy's or Dairy Queen is translated into hamburger joint or restaurant or maybe McDonald's. It's not an advertising thing it's because the subtitlers are sure that Spaniards will not know what a Dairy Queen is. I don't know exactly what Captain Crunch is or Fig Newtons either but I can hazard a guess and using cereals and biscuits seems, to me, like some form of subtle elitism on behalf of the subtitlers. It can only help to maintain the parochial nature of Spanish society.

Our nearest cinemas are about 25km away. There are two multiscreen places there within a couple of hundred metres of each other. One is part of a big chain and the other is an independent set up. Both get new release films but the Yelmo, the chain, gets them without fail. The Cinesmax usually does. The independent fills the screens with what must be cheaper films - current films but with a longer run, foreign films and even second run films. It also offers a screen for the films with lesser distribution so, although it's not exactly art house, it does show stuff that's away from the mainstream. The staff are very nice to us nowadays, greeting us like old friends rather than simple customers. I think we've even been greeted by name a couple of times and we usually have a giggle about the correct pronunciation of the title of a film when it is given in English. When we walked out of something because it was so bad for instance they let us go to a completely different film.

We went to see a Finnish film earlier this week. A very strange film that I enjoyed a lot. One of its themes is about refugees with Syrians and Iraqis working their way through the Finnish asylum system. One of the obvious problems that the asylum seekers have is that they don't speak Finnish but, in the Spanish version, everyone speaks Spanish and the dubbers are left with a difficult problem. The actors do their job and demonstrate their confusion, lack of understanding of what's happening to them etc. but the soundtrack flows with perfectly ordinary language and perfectly ordered grammar. There is a complete mismatch between picture and sound. It reminded me a bit of that scene in Love Actually where Colin Firth has learned Portuguese in order to propose to a woman he met but was never able to talk to. In the English version, as he declaims his love in a crowded restaurant the subtitles show that his Portuguese isn't isn't at all bad despite his making grammatical slip after slip. Small things, not large enough to mask the meaning - inhabit instead of live, over emphatic adjectives and inverted phrases - but wrong enough to make it obvious to us that he is a tyro in the language. When she answers in English she says that she learned the language "Just in cases." The faltering language makes the scene. In the Spanish version that is not allowed to happen. In films dubbed into Spanish that is not allowed to happen.

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