Words on Film

Ever wondered what your favourite film is called in another language? Translators have to make a crucial decision with film titles; creating a different title based on an aspect of the film or opting for a literal translation of the original title, possibly involving a little localisation. Both of these options have to ensure the film has as much success with the translated title as it does with the original title.

One example of conveying the meaning of the original title whilst using localisation can be seen in the Hebrew title of the 2009 animation ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ released in Israel.

‘Meatballs’ are a common western food, yet in Israel ‘falafel’ is perhaps more well-known; therefore the title became ‘Rain of falafel’ (Geshem Shel Falafel). Although it actually still rained meatballs in the film, the title itself attracted the necessary amount of spectators, as the word ‘falafel’ resounded with them as a traditional food of their country.

South American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela also ditched ‘meatballs’ in favour of the more popular  ‘hamburger’. Meatballs aside, the rest of the title of this animated film also underwent a transformation in nearly all countries.

Excluding Brazil, the aforementioned South American countries opted for the cloudless ‘Hamburger rain’ (Lluvia de hamburguesas), whilst Brazil went for ‘It’s raining hamburgers’ (Tá Chovendo Hambúrguer). Similar to the South American translations, Castilian Spanish chose to eliminate the clouds and translate the title as ‘Meatball rain’ (Lluvia de albóndigas), ‘albóndigas’ being a typical dish on the Iberian Peninsula. The Canadian French title also varies from the French title, using ‘It’s raining hamburgers’ (Il pleut des hamburgers) and ‘Storm of meatballs’ (Tempête de boulettes géantes), respectively.

Ever heard of ‘Tutti insieme appassionatamente’  (All Together, Passionately) or perhaps seen the musical? Maybe if we told you that it was actually ‘The Sound of Music’, you’d be able to answer. Yes, creative film title translations have been around for decades, alongside musical, book and TV programme titles.

The Italian translation of this classic is certainly not the most curious, nearly all South American countries chose ‘The rebellious novice’ (La novicia rebelde), Spain chose ‘Smiles and tears’ (Sonrisas y lágrimas) and Germany chose ‘My songs, my dreams’ (Meine Lieder, meine Träume), perhaps closer to the original title than some of the others, as it is the only one that makes a more direct reference to music.

Whilst the translated titles of the next two films remained very close to the original, we did find one peculiarity. Two classic cinematographic productions, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971) and ‘The Big Lebowski’ (1998) use the same Italian word for two different English words. ‘A Clockwork Orange’, uses ‘drughi’ as a translation of ‘droogs’ (the characters that form part of protagonist’s gang of thugs) whilst ‘The Big Lebowski’, uses ‘drugo’ as a translation of ‘dude’ (Jeff “the Dude” Lebowski, becomes ‘drugo’).

In the first case, the word ‘droog’ (‘drughi’, plural of ‘drugo’) is said to originate from the Russian word for ‘friend’ (the literal  translation in to Italian is ‘amico’) and forms part of the made up language that resembles Russian in the film. In the second case ‘dude’ is translated as ‘drugo’. The connotations of ‘dude’ often imply a certain level of familiarity and friendship, similar to ‘friend’.

So dudes, we hope the next film you watch is as creative as its title!

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