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Tuesday 30 April 2013, 13:35

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

Pedro Almodovar has a new movie out this week called I'm So Excited. It's a comedy that is rooted in Spanish politics and society - but how much do we miss out on when watching films from other cultures?

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    Comment number 1.

    Y Tu Mamá Tambien is a classic example of a film that is lost in translation. Don't get me wrong, I think it's a superb film and I love it to pieces, but I always feel like I'm missing out on a great deal when I'm watching it. The political background is obvious enough, though there are many moments that pass me by (in the same way that certain scenes in classic Godard films do) but, perhaps more importantly, the english translation of the sexual conversations is very clunky. The film is intensely erotic to watch, yet the translation of the conversations into English results in some of the scenes losing their spark. A similar thing happens in Bergman's "Persona". It's to both of these films' credit, however, that they made me want to learn another language immediately, to experience them in all their glory.

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    Comment number 2.

    haha surely this is a way to play spot the racists on here - but i did think recently when i was watching the masterpiece "apocalypto" that cos it had an english speaking director and writer - i therefore dont mind hearing a different language - it's like another palette rather than another way of thinking - and thats my main gripe with foreign films is it's foreign thinking not just foreign talking and so i cant connect with its outlooks - i struggle to enjoy subtitle films anyway (unless it's japanese or a french film) - so i know i am in a deep minority in your fan base doctor

    comedy is a natural example - it's rare to find americans that understand or love "partridge" or "big train" as much as us - they tend to like the wacky stuff like "mighty boosh"

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    Comment number 3.

    I find this true of Bollywood to a great extent too. Don't get me wrong, a lot of people in India find it just as silly and over the top as in Britain, but I find sometimes that some of the dialogue translated into English sounds over-sentimental or saccharine, whereas I think it is quite poetic and beautiful in Hindi. When I try to translate it myself, it's always difficult trying to get across the real meaning of what they're trying to say without sounding ''corny.'' I don't know how true this is of other languages but this is just from my experience

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    Comment number 4.

    Aardman movies (especially Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit) vary in cultural significance between the English North and South. The experience of watching these movies if you're not familiar with English culture has got to differ wildly.

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    Comment number 5.

    I found Ong Bak utterly ridiculous. The lengths this guy seemed to want to go to for what in my mind was a garden gnome was at first laughable then just plain tiresome. The whole film was, apart from a few great action sequences, utterly awful. This may have been Thailand's answer to the greatest piece of filmmaking in history, but oh my god....

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    Comment number 6.

    This question crossed my mind recently when I was thinking about audiences, realism and the ubiquitousness of Hollywood film over the last century. We don’t consider US film to be “foreign” and there is an assumption that, as it is English language, we consume it as a part of “our” culture. But our whole perception of the cultural meaning of these films must be completely different from a US audience. How can a British person understand a classic Western in the same way as an American? In terms of cultural equivalents it would be like the UK film industry creating a long-running film genre based in the Arthurian legend, or Victorian empire-building. (But then you couldn’t, because class when then suddenly become relevant, something all but absent in mainstream US film).

    Even the most unreal US action movie such as, for example, ‘Die Hard’ has an element of realism for the American viewer that it simply cannot have for us; John McCLane’s ‘ordinary Joe’ persona has a cultural meaning and familiarity for Americans that it just cannot have for a UK audience. We ‘get’ the references, but we cannot understand them in the same way.

    You could say this about all film even within the same “culture”, and not just with film. Look for example at comedies such as “Only Fools and Horses”; would a viewer from the North of England, or with a family background from anywhere outside London for that matter, truly understand all the references or enjoy it in the same way as someone who identifies first hand with the class and geographical background of the characters?

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    Comment number 7.

    Almodovar's new film reminds us of the ridiculousness and the importance of translation of films between English and Spanish, which are so often neither literal or pragmatic. "Los Amantes Pasajeros" is possibly "Fleeting lovers" or "Passengers in Love", but both are shunned for the song lyric "I'm So Excited". But hen a random title is better than a bad literal translation. The English title of Amenábar's "The Sea Inside" was translated literally from the Spanish "Mar Adentro", which actually means "Out at Sea", or "The Open Sea". As we know "The Sea Inside", although suitably intriguing, is completely meaningless.

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    Comment number 8.

    "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" , I missed so much of the cultural sub text that I fell asleep

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    Comment number 9.

    I'm British but my parents are South African. I moved over to the UK when I was 7 and so I did not learn Afrikaans which is what a lot of my family speaks, as well as English. When I went to see District 9 with my mum and dad, I found it slightly embarrassing to watch because my parents were the only ones in the cinema howling with laughter at the Afrikaans. Apparently the swearing in it was extremely creative and full of double meanings, in a way that Malcom Tucker would blush, but the subtitles were translated simply to phrases such as "go away!"

    I thought it was a fantastic science-fiction film with great special effects, over the top violence, and the gritty aesthetics complemented the allegory well, but according to my South African family, there was a lot of comedy that was lost in translation.

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    Comment number 10.

    I tend to watch a fair few comedies from around the globe - the one most recently was "3 Idiots", one of India's most successful comedies. It's very much rooted in that cultural sense of ambition and individuality in the face of tradition, but on the surface it's just a sort of flashback comedy. The tone gets lost because it is hard to relate to it over here. Again, must like Sctonk!, the audience for which it was pitched adored it. The rest of us... it doesn't really tap into the same roots.

    I think this transcends film though. Take last years huge craze, "Gangham Style". Now, to those of us who are educated enough on the political class struggles within South Korea, notably mocking those of the Gangham region of Seoul. The best way to explain it to the uninitiated is it's like the Essex of South Korea. All style, no substance.

    And it became a huge hit in spite of the fact that most people in the UK or America had the slightest clue what was being said - incidentally, not much, but just enough to be a damning criticism. The subtext was lost on everyone, instead mainly being adulated on the back of its addictive rhythm and silly comedic video.

    I don't think it's "racist". I think there are some universally funny jokes - running away from a bed with your pants around your ankles, the horse-riding dance move, camp dance routines all come into play. But when it's so rooted in the upbringing and cultural identity associated with a particular country, it's hard to see what others will automatically see. We take such things at face value now and expect to be led deeper that way, rather than educate ourselves on the "What"'s and "Why"'s of any given production.

    I don't think it invalidates the message though. The people who are supposed to get it, get it. Those who aren't will be left scratching their heads. And in some cases, I suspect that, to coin an old gaming phrase, is 'Working As Intended"...

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    Comment number 11.

    I am going to come at this at a bit of an angle.

    A Brit, I am going to mention a Romanian film, I first saw whilst in the Czech Republic.

    And that film is ' California Dreamin' (Endless).

    Endless because the director, Cristian Nemescu, was killed, along with the sound editor, in a road accident in Bucharest, whist the film was still in post production.

    A darkly comic movie, it picks over the idiosyncrasies of post revolutionary Romanian culture, in particular highlighting the 'old guard' still guarding their memories of Chauchescu's Romania, resentful of the change. And come to a climatic ending which re-stages the Romanian revolution, in a rural Romanian railway station, with the violent overthrough of a tyranical station master

    Because of my own interest in and experience of, that part of the world, I was aware of much of the back story the film makes reference too. And at the time of the screening, because of their sharred history I think the Czech audience appreciated the intricacies of tale as it was being told.

    But when it came to the UK....

    Time Out called it "Laugh out loud funny" (apparently) - which it is, but I know, I know it has so much, much more to say.

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    Comment number 12.

    After watching Chico & Rita, I read on IMDB that one of the directors took an extensive tour of Cuba and even accessed government archive photos of Cuba in the late 1940's. Their understanding of the social and political nature of Cuba at that time probably enriches the film even more than its simple beautiful story, but unfortunately, I don't know anything about it. Had I have done, I could have heaped even more praise on the film.

    After watching the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi recently, I realised that a westerner such as myself can never really appreciate the collectivist culture that still abounds in Japan. The relationship between the father and son is the subject of the film, but I still felt I missed out not having the experience of a more collectivist culture.

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    Comment number 13.

    Well being from Iran one of the movies that I've always enjoyed watching and re-watching is an iranian satirical comedy about Shiite Scholar community of Iran called The Lizard (original title: Marmoulak- مارمولک) and yet All of my non-Iranian Friends find it dull,unremarkable, and extremely mediocre...to give you an example one of the gags in the film is that shiite scholars have to give a speech on everything even topics they know nothing about...so when one them is asked to review Pulp Fiction, he addresses Tarantino the way he addresses a muslim and pronounces Pulp Fiction as a persian word:"Today we talk about a film of our most valuable brother Quentin Tarantino called palp-e-fikshen." now each time I encounter this joke I have a belly laugh whilst my non-Iranian fellas have a look of confusion and disappointment on their faces.

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    Comment number 14.

    There will always be cultural differences that pass viewers by. But I think sometimes we give films more credit when we don't fully understand then. I have always enjoyed the films of Chan-wook Park but recently found myself questioning the value of the Korean films having watched Stoker and been disappointed in the poor dialogue and stilted acting.Was it just this film or had I accepted what I thought was cultural differences in his earlier work? I'll have to re-watch them all!

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    Comment number 15.

    Two Nations Divided By A Common Sense Of Humour:

    After watching that great Yentob doc about US primetime TV comedy the other night, I’m beginning to think the US success of Benny Hill and all those ‘oo-er missus’ Britcoms we exported in the 70s may be responsible for Adam Sandler and the Wayan Bros. In America, Monty Python was mostly consumed by male pubescent potheads watching late-night TV – AKA the Judd Apatow generation! No matter how you look at it, us Brits are probably responsible for the dumbing-down of US comedy (well, I'm N Irish, so i only feel partially responsible).

    ** NB: I predict Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps will be a PBS smash in 10 years time and inspire US comedies in 20 years time that will make Jack and Jill look like Beckett! **

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    Comment number 16.

    Two specific examples leap out to me:

    Studio Ghibli has been exceptional at creating movies with outlandish, wonderful and at times beautiful images and characters in their movies, be they from a fantasy book or from folklore...BUT NOTHING CAN PREPARE YOU FOR THE GIANT RACCOON DOG TESTICLES IN POM POKO!
    They even shape-shift the testicles to crush humans. Nothing in British schools prepare you for that. What do we have from our folklore? The sword in the stone an knights who say Ni.
    On the other hand, princess Mononoke is my genuine favourite movie.

    Also, while In The Loop garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, I'd love to be a fly on the wall when foreign voters witnessed films like Attack the Block (If the older gents even went near that movie) or Four Lions.

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    Comment number 17.

    I found myself last year in the Windsor, Ontario which borders the United States at the opening evening of The Dictator. The screen was full and the film went down very well with the audience until the end when the speech degrading American politics and the American Dream is made. The screen fell deadly silent apart from the sound of my outrageous laughter as - being a British outsider - I could identify that Baron Cohen had correctly identified the many flaws of Americanisation, whereas the mixed Canadian/US audience I was watching with either found themselves unable to identify with the humour or just out-rightly offended.

    Needless to say, as I left the screening I had swathes of people give me unnerving looks but for me that sequence was the comedic highlight of the film.

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    Comment number 18.

    They say that British slapstick comedy went down well behind the Iron Curtain. Some say the best way to watch a Norman Wisdom movie is from behind an Iron Curtain. Either way, I’d love to drive into Sofia city centre in an open-topped Lada screeching: “Mr Grimsdale?! Mr Grimsdale?! Mr Grimsdaaaaaale!!!!”

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    Comment number 19.

    In this particular case with "I'm so excited" if you don't think it's funny you aren't missing anything in translation. The reviews in Spain have been awful and being Spanish myself I don't know anyone personally who has enjoyed the film, let alone found it funny. I haven't seen the movie personally since I lost interest in Almodovar after High heels.

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    Comment number 20.

    I studied a Film module as part of a CertHE in Spanish and Latin-American Studies. In several of of the films we looked at, such as Crìa Cuervos and El Espiritu de la Colmena, there were political subtexts. If one isn't a politics aficionado, then the subtleties can be missed.


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