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Lost in (Cinematic) Translation

Day 493 – November 26, 2012

These pages have seen my adventures in trying to navigate the world around me when I do not fully understand the language.

There has been my lack of clarity over why Toyota selling white cars now is big news.

There has been my disappointment over not been able to catch all the jokes of new episodes of Phineas and Ferb.

There has been our misunderstanding over “cancelling” our order with Pardo’s Chicken.

With all of those (and more) linguistic landmines, I am pleased and comforted to see that the art of mis-translation is a two-way street.

In today’s edition of Lima’s free daily newspaper, Publimetro, there was an article highlighting the 70th anniversary of the movie Casablanca. A sidebar of this article mentions that this film contains six quotes that are on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Movies Quotes list.

In Spanish, the sidebar notes that “Esto va por ti, muneca” (Here’s looking at you, kid) is number five, “Louis, creo que este es el inicio de una amistad hermosa” (Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship) is at number twenty, and “Siempre nos quedara Paris” (We’ll always have Paris) checks in at number forty-three.

Of note is the Spanish version of the line (number 32 on AFI’s list) uttered by Louis Renault (played by Claude Rains), “Round up the usual suspects.” Publimetro writes the line as “Arresten a los sospechosos de siempre” which comes out to “Arrest the usual suspects.” It’s not a huge gaffe, but it does alter the meaning a tiny bit.

What really caught my eye was where the Publimetro article wrote that the quote that was number 28 on AFI’s list was “Tocala otra vez, Sam”. This translates to “Play it again, Sam.” There are a pair of mistakes with Publimetro’s words. For starters, the actual quote that resides in the twenty-eight spot (just below “I’m walking here! I’m walking here!” from Midnight Cowboy and just above “You can’t handle the truth” from A Few Good Men.) is “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.'” which is uttered by Ilsa Lund (played by Ingrid Berman) to the piano player, Sam (Dooley Wilson).

The second mistake is the fact that the line, “Play it again, Sam” is never uttered in the movie. While “Play it Again, Sam” is a fine film by Woody Allen, it is a line not in the film and often misattributed to the character of Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart).

Part of me is heartened to see that I am not alone in my penchant for not translating something correctly. However, the other part of me also realizes that the linguistic problems of an American in Peru no equivalen a una colina de frijoles en este mundo loco.