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Monday 9 February 2009, 17:00

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

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And talking about talking, foreign languages and crazy accents are the theme of this week's round up of your points well made...

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    Comment number 21.

    I think we all have different standards for which situations accents may or may not be appropriate.

    I had no problem at all believing that the Valkyrie ensemble were all supposed to be Nazis, except perhaps thinking that Eddie Izzard was going to ad lib a flight of whimsy at any moment.

    OK, so Tom Cruise is speaking American and the rest of the cast are speaking different types of British. So what? Haven't we been prepared for this kind of thing for decades with Michael Cain appearing in Hollywood movies with no explanation of why his character is speaking with a British accent and similarly with Austrian "Arnie" Schwarzenegger? If memory serves, the miniseries "Holocaust" was made over thirty years ago with American actors as Nazis and Jews all talking in there own accents and that didnt seem out of place then. More recently we had Hitler's SS: Portrait in Evil (1985) which has a mixed cast of British and Americans starring Bill Nighy, John Shea, Jose Ferrer and Tony Randall all playing Germans speaking English (although Nighy sounds like he is doing an American accent). And then there was Conspiracy(2001) with Kenneth Branagh as Heydrich and Stanley Tucci as Eichman, speaking ... English.

    Shouldn't we be used to this by now, so why is Valkyrie different? If we can watch Shakespeare and accept female characters imitating male characters,
    what is so hard about this?
    In "The Reader" the accent thing didn't even occur to me and in "Defiance" once you had worked out why they were sometimes using subtitles and sometimes speaking with accents there was no problem except that the accents were very bad accents.

    So I think that Singer used the right solution in having everybody use their own
    accent in Valkyrie instead of doing an Allo Allo version.

    I said everybody has different standards of acceptability and I think I reached mine with "The Boy in Striped Pyjamas". I didnt see this film, only the trailer.Something sounded very wrong with the middle-class English accent of the young boy. Perhaps if I had seen the movie I would have accepted the situation after a few minutes acclimatising, I don't know. Perhaps there is something about it being a child's voice that makes it difficult to dissociate from the Englishness and therefore believing that the setting is a German concentration camp, although having a concentration camp at the bottom of your garden doesnt seem that believable anyway (at least that was what the trailer suggested). I enjoy watching foreign language films, usually, but I don't think we need to turn every film that is not set in an English-speaking country into a foreign language film with subtitles. Subtitles come with their own set of problems some of which have already been mentioned. I just finished watching Che part two but the problem was that the white subtitles were hard to read against the light-coloured background of the Bolivian undergrowth. This is quite a common problem for films where subtitles are added as an afterthought but I would have thought
    that Soderbergh would have sorted this for a film that was going to be seen so
    widely in non Spanish speaking countries. Incidentally, Benicio Del Toro won a best supporting actor oscar for a role that was almost entirely in Spanish [Traffic(2000)], so no, I don't think he was overlooked because he was in a Spanish language film. He was overlooked because "Che part one and two" is a pretty tedious film. Cut out virtually all of part two and slim down part one and you've got
    a film that he might have been nominated for, and might have won. And if he had
    won he would have been presented the oscar by, guess who? ... somebody who won the best actress oscar the previous year for a (gosh) non-english role.

    Some of my favourite films in the last year have been foreign language films
    such as
    "I've loved you so long", "Let the Right One In" (beats the pants off "Twiglet"). There have been other foreign films I liked too but these were excellent. These films work with subtitles because the pace of the dialogue allows you to read the titles without being distracted long enough to miss anything happening elsewhere on the screen, but other films would not be so suited to this. "JCVD" in contrast is a much more wordy film and I think pushes the limits of subtitles especially in tense scenes where you dont want to take your eyes off the main action (although in the case of JCVD it was more a case of just trying to keep my eyes open).
    The French nominated foreign language Oscar film this year is "The Class" where most of the scenes are set in a rather chaotic classroom which means there is quite rapid dialogue between the teacher and one or more pupils at the same time.
    When you have to resort to putting more than one subtitle line at a time on the screen to keep up with the soundtrack, then I think you are running into problems. In "The Class" also you have shots where the teacher is one side of the picture and the pupil or pupils are the other side of the scene and you are trying to watch both and read the subtitles at the same time. I think it just about works, although I may have been relying a bit on schoolboy French too.

    If you are still convinced that foreign language and subtitles is always the answer to the accent problem, I suggest you take one of your English language DVDs and watch it using a foreign language soundtrack for a language you do not understand with the English subtitles turned on. Then ask yourself how different an experience was that to viewing it in English.

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    Comment number 22.

    Am slightly plastered at the moment. When you encounter your idols, (as in film makers you believe in, or relate to, or engage with) Is there is any disparity between your interpretation of the film and the intended message? how do you deal with that given that movies are youre passion?

 

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