Say what? Why film translators are in a war of words over subtitles
Clumsy and insensitive translations can ruin the enjoyment of a foreign-language film. Don’t blame us, say the subtitlers pressing film-makers for more appreciation of their art
The perfect subtitle is one you don’t notice. Occasionally, you might thrill to Anthony Burgess’s English subtitles in alexandrine form for Cyrano de Bergerac (1990), or marvel at the bravura way Timur Bekmambetov threads animated subtitles into Night Watch (2004), or chuckle at the gaffes on old Hong Kong movies (“I have captured you by the short rabbits”). But mostly you just speed-read and move on.
This year, however, subtitles have been attracting more attention than usual. In January, Alfonso Cuarón condemned Netflix’s decision to add Castilian-Spanish subs to his film Roma as “parochial, ignorant and offensive to Spaniards”, who presumably couldn’t be trusted to understand the Mexican accent. Two days later, the Castilian subtitles were removed.