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For Your Consideration

The presenting of the Academy Awards are nigh upon us.

With that in mind, I wanted to take this portion of my blog space and let you know how the names of the nine nominees for Best Picture were translated into Spanish. I have written before (here and here) about the odd twists and turns translations can wreak upon movies, so here we go again.

Of the nine films vying for the Oscar statuette and title of Best Picture, two of the titles underwent no modification. This was probably because they were proper names and those don’t translate too well. Those movies were Argo and Lincoln.

There are a pair of movies that did not have English titles. Here in Peru, for whatever reason, the powers-that-be did not keep the original name and did translate them into Spanish. The first was Les Miserables which is showing at our local Lima cineplex under the name Los Miserables. The second was Amour, which was been rebranded to Amor.

One movie was only slight changed and its translation doesn’t suffer much. Django Unchained was transmogrified into Django Sin Cadenas (Django Without Chains).

The remaining trio of translated titles had their meanings completely shuffled when the name is changed from English to Spanish and back to English.

Zero Dark Thirty became La Noche Mas Oscura (The Darkest Night).
To buy a ticket to see Life of Pi, one has to ask for Una Aventura Extraordinaria (An Extraordinary Adventure).
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence do not star in Silver Linings Playbook, but instead top the marquee for Los Juegos Del Destino (The Games of Destiny).

Astute readers will notice that I have only written about eight movies. The final movie vying for the Oscar has not been released in Peru. However, even when the local newspapers write about this movie for their articles about the Academy Awards, the writers do not translate the title into Spanish. For whatever reason, the newspapers refer to this movie by its English moniker, Beasts of the Southern Wild.

If this cinematic gem comes to Peru, I will let you know what title it appears as.

I’d say more, but I fear the music is about to cut me off right about here.

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.

Now Available in White

Day 493 – November 26, 2012

My lack of Spanish has left me scratching my head over what I’m sure is an interesting story I read in a newspaper.

In this Monday’s weekly section of El Comerico called Dia_1, there is a small sidebar story with the simple headline of Toyota vende autos blancos (Toyota sells white cars).

I’m not quite sure why it’s big news (or even small news) that a Japanese car company is offering the color white as an option for its vehicles. To my mind, white seems to be a fairly standard hue (examples are here and here and here).

The Dia_1 article had a picture of a white Toyota with the caption Retorna el color de la paz (Return of the color of peace).

The word “return” would mean, to me, that the color of white was once available in Peru and then, for whatever reason, was taken off the market.

I had hoped the actual story would answer my questions as to why white was once a taboo color in cars and why it has now come back. However, I was disappointed as my less-than-perfect translation of the article did not satisfy my curiosity. Here is the text…

La compania Toyota del Peru ha retornado la venta de vehiculos de color blanco en el pais. Segun expertos en marketing, la marca japonesa descontinuo en los ultimos anos este color de su portafolio de productos, como una manera de evitar que la mala reputaction de los autos de timon cambiado de esa marca contagie a los de timon original. Ahora que se ha prohibido la importacion de autos usados con timon a la derecha, nuevamente se haria viable la venta de autos Toyota del color de la paz.

This is the translation that Google Translate provided me…

The company Peru Toyota has returned to selling white cars in the country. According to marketing experts, the Japanese discontinued in recent years this color of its product portfolio, as a way to prevent the bad reputation helm of cars changed from getting to that brand of original rudder. Now that it has banned the import of used cars with the right rudder, this again makes feasible the sale of Toyota cars of the color of peace.

What appears to be throwing me is the Spanish word timòn which Google translates to “helm” but can also mean “rudder”, “tiller”, or “wheel”.

So did Toyota stop selling white vehicles in Peru because of some unfortunate event in the past that tainted the opinions of Peruvians towards carros blancos? Does white have some sort of cultural red line that Peruvians did not want to cross?

This article in microcosm exemplifies my experience as a non-native Spanish speaker living in a country where English is rarely spoken. When people speak to me or when I read articles in newspapers and articles, I feel as if I have only understood the tippiest tiniest part of the linguistic iceberg. There is so much more nuance and meaning that I am missing that I can only wonder what lies beneath.

Some days it’s missing out on why white cars are back on sale and some days it’s missing out on why and how people feel the way they feel.

As a parting note, if anyone has a better translation of the above story or knows why white was once a verboten tint, please feel free to drop a thought in the comment section.