Sunday, March 15, 2009

Au Cinéma

Movies are huge in France. There are important film festivals every year in Cannes and Deauville, French directors and movie stars are known all over the world, and theaters in France sell all-you-can-watch passes so that French audiences can see multiple showings every month. Films have long played an important role in French culture, and they still do today. But they're not just watching French movies in French cinémas Foreign films are popular too, with American films taking top billing. I've seen a lot of American movies in France, and one thing that always surprised me was the method (or lack thereof) for creating their titles. American movies in France don't necessarily retain their English names, and in some cases, they come out completely unrecognizable on the other side.

There seem to be three different fates for American movie titles in France. The first is that the original title is kept in English. For example, when I saw Sex and the City in Paris last spring, it was called Sex and the City. Nothing had been changed. The second option is that the original title is kept, but is translated into French. Lord of the Rings offers a good example of this; it becomes Le Seigneur des Anneaux. Chick flick 27 Dresses was showing while I was in Paris, and yep, they called it 27 Robes.

The third fate is the one that always catches me off guard. Occasionally, American movie titles are completely changed before being marketed to the French public. For example, the Steve Carell/Juliette Binoche film Dan in Real Life became Coup de Foudre à Rhode Island, which means Love at First Sight in Rhode Island in English. Quoi? That title has a totally different meaning than its original English version! I remember a few years back when Something's Gotta Give came out. I was in France, and it was called Tout Peut Arriver, which would be Anything Can Happen in English. So what's the deal? Why do some titles change and others don't? How do they decide which titles stay in English? And just who, exactly, is making all of these decisions?

Of course, this issue cuts both ways. Amélie - a French film that was hugely popular in the U.S. when it came out - isn't called Amélie in France. Its real title is Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulin, a nice little rhyme that, as you can probably guess, translates to The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulin. Maybe that's the key: the French title has a sing-songy feel to it, but when it's changed to English it loses that meaning. As a result, there's no point in keeping the original title. It does seem like the American movie titles that are changed tend to be idiomatic or slang-ridden. And I suppose it doesn't really matter what the movie is called, as long as it's worth the good euros, or dollars, you paid to see it.


Photo credit: clasixart

10 comments:

Kaley said...

Same thing in Spanish, I realized. 27 Dresses = 27 Vestidos, yes. But the Bucket List? (I realize this is an idiom, so it makes sense.) It became "Antes de Morir" or "Before Dying." Interesting...I wonder how the decisions are made.

Cancemini4 said...

Movies are definitely a big deal in France. I remember looking forward to buying my Pariscope every Wednesday to see the new releases. Which raises another question...why are films usually released on Wednesdays in France vs. Fridays in the States?

Jeff said...

Sometimes it's a cultural thing that changes the translation. I just saw this documentary on Sundance called 100 Films and a Funeral about Polygram Filmed Entertainment. One producer made this film called "Jude" based on Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure. When they marketed it to Germany they couldn't use Jude because Jude=Jew. So they called it "Herzen in Aufruhr," which I don't know what that means.

Tanya said...

@Kaley: I wonder the same thing: who are these movie title deciders?!? Thanks for sharing about 27 Dresses. Interesting that it was kept the same in both French and Spanish.

@Cancemini4: And Sex and the City was released in France one day before it was released in the U.S. Strange.

@Jeff: I don't know what that means either! Interesting point about the German version of Jude. Culture is definitely sometimes a factor.

Adriana said...

It's the same in Brazil (in Portuguese) - many times (most times) the movies come out with weird names that have absolutely NOTHING to do with the original English title! It's a bit annoying, acutally! ;) From my research (yes, I've researched about that!:)) I've found that in Brazil they go for what they think will appeal to the public and don't really care about the translation. I understand that sometimes the translation doesn't work out (due to idiomatic expressions, etc), or doesn't have the same impact - in those cases the context of the film should be taken into consideration or else it just wouldn't be understood. In Brazil there's a commitee that makes the decision.
Great post! love your blog!

julie said...

Loved this! Same in Spanish, as a couple people already said. Francisco and I love to watch movies with the subtitles on to see just what really gets lost in translation. We also love to listen to dubbed movies. You'll have a totally masculine character with a feminine voice-- it's funny.

Tanya said...

@Adriana Thanks for joining the conversation! Loved hearing the Brazilian/Portuguese language angle on this.

@Julie I do the same thing with French movies, reading English subtitles, and American movies, reading French subtitles. It's amazing, and sometimes rather funny, what gets lost in translation.

Karen said...

One of the oddest title substitutions that I have seen lately is "Ils Se Marièrent et Eurent Beaucoups d'Enfants" (They Married and Had Lots of Children). I couldn't figure out why I couldn't locate it in the video store until they looked under the American title, "Happily Ever After".

Melina said...

This is sooo true. I am one of the many "subscribed" to the UGC movie theatres here in France.. so we see a loooot of movies. The latest one that shocked me was "He's just not that into You" in English, and then in French it was changed to "Ce que pensent les hommes". It just didnt work at all!

Tanya said...

@Melina, That movie title was actually the inspiration for this post! Even though I didn't include it in the story. I heard they changed it to that and thought "wow, this totally misses the point!"