Aprender idiomas es fácil con los ojos cerrados

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Ya está decidido, Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados de David Trueba va a representar a España en los Óscar, y no es ninguna sorpresa. He visto la peli hace poco, albergando muchas expectativas, porque me encanta el cine español, y porque me espero una maravilla cuando el reparto incluye a Javier Cámara.
El título ya lo delata, pero yo no pillé la alusión: la peli va a hablar de los Beatles. Cámara es Antonio, un profesor de inglés y latín en la España de los años sesenta. ¿Qué tienen que ver los dos idiomas? Os podría contar yo, pero él lo hace de manera tajante con pocas líneas:

Antonio: ¿Ya has dejado los estudios?

Juanjo: Más o menos.

Antonio: “Más o menos”, buena respuesta. Pues, mira, yo más o menos soy profesor de inglés y de latín, que aunque te parezcan dos cosas opuestas, en realidad tienen mucha relación. ¿Por qué piensas tú que los ingleses usan table para decir mesa? Pues, porque viene del latín tabulatabula-table. A mis alumnos les encanta estudiar inglés, pero dicen que aprender latín que es inútil, y ¿sabéis yo qué les digo? Que su abuelo también está viejo y no sirve para nada, pero sin él no estarían aquí.

En sus clases en un colegio de curas muy estricto, Antonio enseña inglés usando las letras de las canciones de los Beatles, letras que, nos dirá luego, va escribiendo de oído. Esa escena me ha recordado dos momentos muy claros de mi vida: el primero es de cuando, adolescente, estudiante de francés como único idioma extranjero (y latín, claro que sí), esperaba acabar los deberes para poder copiar las letras de las canciones de Queen de los libros de la biblioteca y leer las traducciones. Fue mi manera de acercarme al inglés, un idioma que no incluí en mis estudios por escuchar a las personas equivocadas, y que luego acabó apoderándose de mi vida. Puede parecer aburrido, e incluso una pérdida de tiempo, pero así empezó para mí el acercamiento a la actividad que más placer y satisfacción me da: la traducción. Leía esas letras durante horas, porque a esas alturas ya tenía muchos discos (cintas, en realidad, soy de la lejana época de las cintas y los lápices para rebobinarlas, algo que ahora, según nos hace creer Facebook, es talento de los que incluir en el currículum, pero en aquel entonces solo era un agobio). A lo que iba, empecé aprendiendo vocabulario, a menudo pijo, pero pronto fui más en profundidad, intentando entender las reglas de gramática, y a cuestionar las traducciones: pues sí, ¡lo tengo en la sangre y soy una verdadera friki! La otra anécdota que me recordó es la de cuando, ya mayorcita y en la universidad, seguí sin estudiar inglés entre mis idiomas oficiales, y acabé en uno de los famosos cursos del Centro Linguistico d’Ateneo, y el profesor nos puso Message in a bottle y el único resultado fue liarnos con la pronunciación de please y police, con lo fácil que es explicarle eso a un hablante de italiano. Me gustaría decir que no era su culpa, que hacía lo que podía con la clase que tenía, pero no es verdad, solo era uno de los muchos extranjeros aburridos que acabó dando clase porque no sabía qué más hacer. De esos profesores de lengua tuve muchos, y son la plaga de la educación italiana. Ahora el sistema puede ser horroroso, y los profesores han perdido la ilusión, pero cuando yo empecé a estudiar era diferente, y no puedo excusar la mediocridad. Cámara nos dice en la peli que:

Tener malos profesores no es tan grave: a veces, si tienes talento, un mal profesor te ayuda a decidir por ti mismo.

Es verdad, pero no excusa.

La peli sigue, y no os la voy a estropear, pero os voy a decir que la miréis, que la aprovechéis tanto como lo he hecho yo, y que, si estáis listos, admitáis que “vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados”, ¡pero al abrirlos se ve todo otro mundo!

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“La meglio gioventù”, un’analisi della società italiana

Ho appena finito di guardare La meglio gioventù, e la prima domanda che mi viene da pormi è più che ovvia: perché ho aspettato dieci anni? Pigrizia e trascuratezza, senza dubbio, ma non solo, e d’altronde non è l’unica cosa che, per sbaglio, ho trascinato per dieci anni. Le mie opinioni si potrebbero facilmente riassumere con una frase, quella che ho scritto, non appena sono apparsi i titoli di coda, a chi questo film me l’aveva consigliato: è bellissimo, così bello e triste che fa male!

Per tanto tempo, ho pensato di voler sempre leggere qualcosa prima di vedere un film, il libro da cui era tratto se era il caso, o almeno le informazioni sulla trama. È da un po’ che non seguo questo principio, e che mi sto tuffando nei film e nei telefilm con il bagaglio di conoscenze che già avevo. È un modo per apprezzare di più ciò che vedo, e di avere curiosità più che alte speranze. Questo film è il caso più lampante. Per ben dieci anni l’ho sentito nominare, ma non ho mai cercato nulla.

Non sapevo cosa aspettarmi, e non avevo idea di cosa parlasse il film. L’unica cosa che mi ha guidato, e anche bloccato per tanto tempo, è stato il titolo, chiaramente triste secondo me, idea totalmente confermata al sentire chi mi aveva detto il contrario. Mi sono immediatamente ritrovata immersa in un compendio di storia italiana dagli anni ’60 ai giorni nostri. Al 2003, in realtà, ma io mi vedo ancora là, forse perché quell’anno fu per me ciò che il 1966 fu per Matteo e Nicola.

Ciò che si presenta inizialmente come un’analisi psicologica di alcuni personaggi, si rivela ben presto un ritratto frenetico di una società spaccata, sofferente, giovane ma con il peso troppo opprimente di una storia troppo lunga e troppo tragica. Le parole del professore sono la rappresentazione fedele del mondo universitario italiano, ma anche del resto delle istituzioni della nazione, dalla politica alle forze dell’ordine, dal mondo del lavoro al sistema sanitario.

Professore: Lei promette bene, le dicevo, e probabilmente sbaglio, comunque voglio darle un consiglio, lei ha una qualche ambizione?

Nicola: Ma… Non…

Professore: E allora vada via… Se ne vada dall’Italia. Lasci l’Italia finché è in tempo. Cosa vuol fare, il chirurgo?

Nicola: Non lo so, non… non ho ancora deciso…

Professore: Qualsiasi cosa decida, vada a studiare a Londra, a Parigi, vada in America, se ha le possibilità, ma lasci questo Paese. L’Italia è un Paese da distruggere: un posto bello e inutile, destinato a morire.

Nicola: Cioè, secondo lei tra un poco ci sarà un’apocalisse?

Professore: E magari ci fosse, almeno saremmo tutti costretti a ricostruire… Invece qui rimane tutto immobile, uguale, in mano ai dinosauri. Dia retta, vada via…

Nicola: E lei, allora, professore, perché rimane?

Professore: Come perché?! Mio caro, io sono uno dei dinosauri da distruggere.

Non credo sia un caso che la suddivisione della famiglia Carati sembri rappresentare l’intera società italiana: la figlia maggiore, Giovanna, magistrato, simbolo del sistema giudiziario; Nicola, il ribelle e sovversivo che, dopo aver viaggiato per l’Europa, torna ai suoi studi di medicina, e rappresenta il sistema sanitario; Matteo, il bello e l’intellettuale che, schiacciato dall’impossibilità di esprimere se stesso appieno, si rifugia in tutto ciò che non lo rappresenta, il servizio militare e l’azione, e rappresenta le forze dell’ordine, o del disordine, come forse saggiamente le chiama lo stesso Nicola; Francesca, la più piccola, che troviamo sempre a casa, è, non a caso, la moglie dell’economista Carlo, e insieme rappresentano, manco a dirlo, l’istituzione della famiglia e la base dell’economia italiana. Giorgia, infine, filo conduttore di tutta la storia, e causa apparente di tutto ciò che accade nel film, non è altro che il simbolo del popolo italiano, debole, maltrattata, vittima di istituzioni obsolete che non sanno aiutarla e la affossano sempre di più. Considero questo film un’analisi estremamente lucida della società e della psicologia italiana, ma vedo qualcosa che mi sembra un errore banale probabilmente voluto e spinto dalla fiducia e dall’orgoglio patrio, ma che gli anni hanno dimostrato essere semplicemente una visione poco lungimirante: Carlo e Francesca, simbolo secondo me della famiglia e dell’economia italiane, sono ricchi e, durante tutto il film, gli unici veramente felici e appagati.

Sono troppo giovane per ricordare quasi tutti i fatti descritti in quest’opera, e avevo appena 10 anni all’epoca dell’attentato a Giovanni Falcone, ma lo ricordo con estrema chiarezza. I vari membri della famiglia sono toccati in modo più o meno diretto dai fatti di cronaca che avvengono durante gli anni, vicende che, infatti, colpiscono l’intera società italiana. Ogni volta che qualcosa del genere succede, l’intera popolazione si stringe e si unisce nella condanna e nella sofferenza: Nicola ritrova Matteo e i propri amici a Firenze quando tutti si mobilitano per riparare ai danni causati dalla piena dell’Arno; tutti sono riuniti a Roma per Natale quando le BR decidono di eliminare Carlo e Giulia viene invece arrestata; Nicola incontra Giovanna a Palermo quando la mafia uccide Falcone.

Le vecchie generazioni sembrano ormai troppo stanche per continuare a combattere, e hanno solo le energie per raccogliere i cocci delle battaglie passate. Le nuove generazioni, invece, sembrano avere la forza per ottenere ciò che non hanno potuto avere i loro genitori: Sara è l’artista che Giulia non è riuscita a essere, e riesce a perdonare la propria madre per l’abbandono, quasi a rappresentare un’Italia che fa pace con in proprio passato di sangue; Andrea, invece, riesce a completare il viaggio che Nicola non aveva portato a termine e Matteo neppure aveva iniziato.

È una visione positiva, una speranza di un futuro migliore che ha imparato dagli errori del passato, un paese lacerato che, non sarebbe la prima volta, rinasce dalle proprie ceneri, che si ricostruisce dopo l’apocalisse che, si spera, ha spazzato via i dinosauri. D’altronde, è lo stesso Nicola a presentarci questa visione di incrollabile fede nella bellezza della vita:

Giovanna: Senti, ma lo sai che conservo ancora una cartolina che mi hai spedito da Capo Nord, nel ’66, in norvegese? Credo avesse una scritta. E sotto la traduzione diceva: “Tutto quello che esiste è bello!!!”, con tre punti esclamativi… ma tu ci credi ancora?

Nicola: Ai punti esclamativi no, non ci credo più.

Me versus “Her”: MT versus AI

Samantha: I want to learn everything about everything.

Theodore: I love the way you look at the world.

(Turns out she has the mind of a translator!)

Here I am, as promised, or threatened, some days ago on Twitter. On Sunday, I partly watched Her. It has been a really interesting moment, with a movie that, respecting my original thoughts, was not really a great way to convey a message that, on the contrary, was interesting. In any case, contrary to all that I could have imagined, it touched me and made me think about different issues.

When I first heard about this movie, I just thought it was another “let’s try and make a huge philosophical point about human beings by using a really complicated surrounding tech world that prevents 80% of the audience from understanding the movie at all, let alone from receiving the message” kind of movie (OK, I should totally start finding shorter names for movies genres!) So, with this idea, I was not too much interested in watching it. After having started, I can admit that it has some value and I should maybe finish it (it was not my decision not to watch it fully,) but I still think that it can fit in my genre.

In its defence, I have to say that this movie is powerful, and I am not only talking about the fact that you totally plunge into it almost without noticing what they have done to Joaquin Phoenix, even if, after, you feel an unstoppable desire to watch again Walk the line to wash away the Groucho Marx impression on your retina. No, seriously, I have gone through this one reliving in my mind different movies that, one way or another, tried to talk about the loneliness and depersonification of our modern society:

We begin with Theodore/Phoenix estranged from the rest of the world, living all his life through the vocal inputs that he sends to his phone. It reminded me immediately of Wall-E and the society that the little robot finds on the starship Axiom: a group of obese human beings who travel on floating chairs and whose needs are satisfied by the main computer, without any desire for them to move; in fact, they don’t even realise what is around them, or that there are other humans on their sides.

Then, Theodore buys Samantha/Johansson, and in front of my eyes the screen creates a complicated mix of You’ve got mail and Bicentennial man. Theodore is alone, recently separated but too scared to sign the papers for the divorce, because he has not fully recovered from those feelings. He is not really able or ready to flirt with another woman, or is not capable of seeing what he has around, because he is too lost in his self-pitying, introverted world in which he is only comfortable when dealing with his devices and expressing every side of himself through voice commands and electronic inputs. At the same time, he decides to try a new operating system and buys Samantha. She is an OS that is built with conscience and learns fast, creating a superior being that is only lacking a material body. If at the beginning it may seem silly that they feel something so strong for each other, very soon we see the OS becoming a complete person (with all the doubts and incoherencies that the movie cannot resolve), and very little difference exists between Theodore’s and Samantha’s relationship and any other taking place long distance.

Letting on a side the sentimental part, the main subject that I wanted to approach in this post were the similarities between the doubts about artificial intelligence, AI, and the ones about machine translation, or MT. MT is the translation delivered by a machine, with no human intervention, and must not be mistaken with computer assisted translation, or CAT. Examples of CAT are SDL Trados Studio, CatsCradle, and Déjà Vu, softwares that allow the translator to save time and optimise the time of a translation: Studio creates translation memories and makes them easily accessible for future works; CatsCradle helps translating websites without having to directly modify the HTML; Déjà Vu is a software similar to Studio, and combines TMs with example-based techniques to give the best matches to the translator.

On a complete different plan, MT just offers its final translation based on different techniques and without any human intervention. The most famous example is Google translate, but it is not the only one. There are different techniques that can be used for a MT, and the main ones are: rule-based MT, and statistical MT. The statistical MT uses bilingual corpora to translate similar texts, and the bigger the corpora, the better the results. It is the main technique used by Google translate. The rule-based MT, instead, mixes different techniques, using the entries of the dictionaries and interlingual representation of the source text to obtain a target text.

Now, translators often, not to say always, criticise Google translate, making it the cause of all the problems that we face in the translation market, but that is not correct. Of course, some ambiguous instruction booklets that I read and that said “not to touch the kids” instead of “keep out of the reach of children” are almost certainly Google’s creations, but that doesn’t mean that Google’s results are always horrible, and that we cannot use it to have a quick idea of what our friend published on Facebook in a language we don’t know. We just need to be careful and not trust literally all the results to avoid embarrassing situations, like when I wrote that my dad loved boiled fish, literally “likes it to die” in Italian, and my reader asked me why my dad would die if he would eat boiled fish!

This brings me back to the original idea for this post, which is the interaction with humans and computers. Of course, the movie poses problems more complicated than the simple human intervention in a machine translation but, in some ways, raises similar questions, like what will we do when the machines will be advanced enough not to need us anymore?, and will that day ever arrive?

As for the movie, I see the man/OS relationship as a metaphor for relationships facing some sort of separation, either physical or cultural, but also for the constantly growing human dependence from tech devices. Talking about MT, the debate about the possibility of it overtaking human translators has been on for decades, and the danger is no bigger now than it was when I started my studies. So far, computers have made translators’ lives easier and their work more productive with hugely accessible information, time-saving tools and simplified communication. As far as I am concerned, I think it will take a while before computers really threaten our lives, physically and professionally, and by that I mean that for now I still am the one able to throw the other to the wall, and not vice versa!

La Grande Bellezza

Ho trascorso tutte le estati della mia vita a fare propositi per settembre, ora non più. Adesso trascorro l’estate a ricordare i propositi che facevo e che sono svaniti, un po’ per pigrizia, un po’ per dimenticanza. Che cosa avete contro la nostalgia, eh? È l’unico svago che ci resta per chi è diffidente verso il futuro. L’UNICO. Senza pioggia, agosto sta finendo, settembre non comincia e io sono così ordinario. Ma non c’è da preoccuparsi, va bene. Va bene così. (Romano, La Grande Bellezza)

Mi ritrovo qua a presentarvi un post che sembra inserito nel mio blog tanto per scrivere qualcosa ogni tanto, ma ho sentito il bisogno di includerlo per due motivi: prima di tutto, per me questo film è stato parte di uno speciale momento di interculturalità, bilinguismo e superamento di differenze; ma non è solo quello, voglio anche dare spazio a questo messaggio, e non posso riuscirci via Facebook, limitato a chi fa parte dei miei amici, né via Twitter, che ci imprigiona in un numero ridotto di caratteri.

Tengo tantissimo alla libertà di poter esprimere il proprio parere se questo non offende gli altri. Ma, allo stesso tempo, è importante per me poter dire la mia se ne sento veramente il bisogno. Ora, dopo giorni dalla premiazione degli Oscar, continuo a leggere commenti, spesso vuoti, su La Grande Bellezza, e sono qua a dire la mia.

Ho adorato questo film, e da lì parte la mia analisi. Posso dire, con orgoglio, di aver visto questo film per scelta, perché veramente incuriosita, e di essermi addirittura impuntata per vederlo hic et nunc, spaventata dal rischio di trascinare all’infinito il progetto. Non l’ho visto perché forzata da una programmazione spavalda che, dedicata quasi interamente a programmi vergognosi, vuole vantarsi di un livello di qualità che il cinema italiano a volte raggiunge nonostante il pubblico. Prima di vederlo e, quindi, prima del premio, l’unica persona che conosco che avesse commentato il film era stata una cara amica italiana qua a Londra, Veronica. Mi sono fidata del suo parere su Facebook non solo perché lei adori il cinema e ne stia facendo il proprio futuro, ma anche perché la considero una persona intelligente, con una grande cultura artistica, una personalità fantastica, un’integrità ammirevole e un carattere che è impossibile non amare.

Nonostante non sia per nulla un’ammiratrice del cinema italiano recente, che per me significa probabilmente degli ultimi vent’anni, mi sono avvicinata a questo film con la mente aperta e libera da preconcetti, grazie anche alla garanzia della coppia Sorrentino-Servillo che mi ha regalato momenti di riflessione e puro divertimento con Il Divo. Non sapevo cosa aspettarmi, e non ho neppure letto la trama, e mi sono ritrovata immersa in un vortice di incomprensibile fascino. Il film è incredibilmente decadente, ma in un modo così raffinato e seducente che mi ha stregato. Fin dal principio, non ho potuto fare a meno di pensare che, finalmente, qualcuno avesse saputo ricreare La Dolce Vita a colori e limando l’oppressiva tristezza di fondo che quel capolavoro lascia per giorni nell’animo di chi lo guarda.

Jep Gambardella non è altro che William Forrester vivendo all’altro estemo dell’estraniamento. Tutto sembra esagerato, spinto, surreale, ma lo spettatore con un minimo di conoscenza dell’ambiente sa che non è affatto così, che il film è dolorosamente realista. Coloro che considero due tra le persone più importanti della mia vita sono scrittori, e il loro esempio ha portato anche me a scrivere a tempo perso, sia su questo blog che, in privato, racconti più o meno brevi. Da loro ho imparato che la scrittura è un’arma a doppio taglio, che da forza e coraggio perché permette di esprimere ciò che, parlando direttamente per se stessi, non si sarebbe capaci di portar fuori. Purtroppo, però, porta via anche linfa vitale, perché parte dell’essere dello scrittore viene relegato per sempre in qualcosa di estraneo, un’emorragia che priva il corpo di parte del fluido vitale, un horrocrux che imprigiona parte dell’anima dello scrittore in un oggetto esterno. Non è sempre facile accettare questo compromesso con la propria creazione: a volte, si sente il bisogno di lasciar uscire questo sangue che scorre con troppo impeto nelle nostre vene, e la pagina bianca diventa la nostra sanguisuga, che ci libera da ciò che non possiamo più tenere dentro e restituisce equilibrio al nostro corpo; altre volte, non possiamo lasciar andare ciò che ci opprime, come il fumo troppo saporito che non vogliamo rilasciare e tratteniamo per un secondo di troppo prima di espirarlo.

Capisco il rifiuto di chi non ha accettato o apprezzato questo film, per me è la versione riuscita di Magic Mike, che invece mi ha lasciato con lo stesso disgusto che mi è sembrato di aver sentito nei commenti che ho letto su La Grande Bellezza. Non sono riuscita a guardare per intero il film di Soderbergh, imprigionata in un disgusto e un fastidio legati alla mia situazione personale del momento e a un volontario ostacolo linguistico. La decadenza e l’autodistruzione che mi hanno bloccato all’inizio di quel film sono le stesse che mi hanno fatto desiderare di finire l’opera di Sorrentino, e che mi hanno permesso di apprezzarla e godermela.

Con gioia ho ritrovato cose del passato al guardare La Grande Bellezza. La musica è meravigliosa, e mi sono vista ballare le canzoni della mia adolescenza quasi senza esserne cosciente, con grande divertimento di chi stava guardando il film con me. Sono stata piacevolmente sorpresa nel vedere attori che per me sono sempre stati simbolo di un cinema facile che, invece di qualità, regala al pubblico film di serie B; artisti che, troppo attempati per continuare con le parti ridicole che li hanno portati alla fama, cercano di creare opere d’autore troppo tardi per essere presi sul serio. In particolare Verdone che, per me, non faceva qualcosa degno di nota dai tempi di Compagni di scuola e Perdiamoci di vista.

Si è parlato tanto dell’oscar mancato di Di Caprio, ma non si è detto che The Wolf of Wall Street è lo stesso film, girato con un filtro diverso nell’obiettivo della telecamera. La decadenza triste e pietosa che accompagna La Grande Bellezza diventa irriverente e urlata nel film di Scorsese ma, in fondo, sono la stessa storia. Voglio citare un post sul meglio del 2013, non perché valga davvero la pena in generale, ma perché mi permette di completare ciò che voglio esprimere:

2. The Wolf of Wall Street and La Grande Bellezza

Both of these movies are very long, and you know what? They’re still not as fucking long as a season of anything, including, I don’t know, Scrubs. Scorsese’s film is a classic American film about a huckster who gets very rich, and then, in a horrifying and tragic turn of events, becomes only well-to-do. La Grande Bellezza is a classic Italian film about an artist who is prevented from writing his second novel by a sinister conspiracy of women, champagne, really good meals, and wildly glamorous parties. (The soundtrack is also one of the best things about 2013.) Sexy, sad, and full of adrenaline, these films were both better than anything on television.

This is the next big thing, which (thanks in part to these two triumphs) is already here: the pleasure principle. All the taboo-breaking that seemed like it should have happened ten years ago, is going to happen over the next few years, in a glittering explosion of hedonism. Neither of these films have unhappy endings. Being wry is as serious as they feel compelled to be. It’s the IDGAF attitude implicit in This Is The EndNow You See Me, and Spring Breakers, without any of the unnecessary dumbing-down. Obviously, this trend is not exactly where my head’s at — cf. my epigraphs — but you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. And it’s kind of overdue.

Also, NB: Italy apparently has exactly one male actor. I’m not saying he’s not good. He’s fantastic. It’s just surprising, is all.

L’unica cosa che mi resta da aggiungere, e in risposta a questa citazione, è che non abbiamo solo un attore in Italia, così come non avevamo solo un doppiatore, nonostante scherziamo costantemente su questo fatto. Ciò che succede è che, per fortuna, gli Stati Uniti ricevono le rare perle prodotte da un’industria cinematografica in rovina che vive ancora vantandosi di glorie vecchie di troppi decenni e non fa altro che sfornare prodotti scadenti in quantità sconvolgenti. Grazie Sorrentino per ricordarci, ogni tanto, che Fellini, De Sica padre, Antonioni, Comencini e altri grandi non hanno chiuso una pagina, ma creato esempi che il cinema italiano non ha dimenticato completamente.

L’audiodescription.

Il y a quelques semaines, j’ai reçu un courriel (j’aime bien utiliser ce mot, c’est comme un hommage que je rends à qui m’a beaucoup appris pendant mes études). Donc, ce courriel est le bulletin d’information de l’USAL, et il inclus plein de liens aux livres électroniques dédiés à la traduction. Dans ce cas en particulier, ils parlaient d’audiodescription, et je me suis souvenue de mon travail d’il y a trois ans sur le même sujet.

En fait, le texte original était beaucoup plus long, car il faisait partie d’une conférence sur la traduction dans le cinéma, et il incluait aussi des exemples pratiques de la technique appliquée au film « L’illusionniste » du réalisateur Neil Burger dans sa version espagnole. Comme vous pouvez imaginer, pour des raisons de breveté, et parce que je n’ai pas l’autorisation pour partager le film ici, je ne peux pas inclure cette partie dans mon post, mais je vais quand même vous présenter le reste, c’est-à-dire un peu d’histoire et la description du processus.

 ***

Mesdames et Messieurs les professeurs, chers collègues, bonsoir à tous. C’est un honneur pour moi d’être ici et de pouvoir participer à ces conférences. Ils m’ont demandé de parler d’un sujet qui est très important dans notre société moderne. Malheureusement,  ce sujet n’est pas trop connu, même s’il n’est pas nouveau du tout. Je vais vous parler de l’audiodescription.

Qu’est-ce que l’audiodescription ?

Je vous donne la définition que nous offre le Ministère du Travail de la République Française :

« L’audiodescription est un procédé qui permet de rendre accessible des films, des spectacles ou des expositions aux personnes non-voyantes ou malvoyantes grâce à un texte en voix-off qui décrit les éléments visuels de l’œuvre. La voix de la description est placée entre les dialogues ou les éléments sonores importants afin de ne pas nuire à l’oeuvre originale ».

 L’histoire

Voyons donc un peu d’histoire avant d’entrer dans le processus de l’audiodescription. Comme j’ai déjà dit, l’audiodescription n’est pas une technique nouvelle, car elle date des années ’70. Tout commence en 1975 aux États-Unis ; Gregory Frazier, professeur de l’Université de San Francisco avait été frappé d’entendre l’épouse de son meilleur ami aveugle lui décrire ce qu’il ne voyait pas, alors qu’ils regardaient la télévision. Il en parla avec le doyen de l’université, August Coppola, qui décida alors de mettre sur pied un programme académique. Le premier film en audiodescription présenté aux aveugles est Tucker, du réalisateur Francis Ford Coppola, frère du doyen August Coppola. C’est de cette façon que l’audiodescription commence à se faire connaître et à arriver aux autres pays. Parallèlement, August Coppola et George Frazier organisent la formation des étudiants étrangers dans l’audiodescription, à ce moment appelée « AudioVision ». En 1989, trois Français arrivent à l’Université de San Francisco pour commencer à étudier. À leur retour en France, August Coppola donne à l’Association Valentin Haüy (AVH) l’exclusivité du projet, et des extraits audiodécrits son présentés au Festival de Cannes. Toujours en 1989, le premier film en audiodescription (Indiana Jones et la dernière croisade de Steven Spielberg) est présenté. La première représentation théâtrale ( Le songe d’une nuit d’été de William Shakespeare) est de l’année suivante et elle est présentée au Théâtre National de Chaillot. Actuellement, l’AVH a un catalogue de plus de 300 films en audiodescription.

Des dates importantes pour l’audiodescription en France sont l’année 2005, quand a été publiée la Loi pour l’égalité des droits, des chances, la participation et la citoyenneté des personnes handicapées, dite « Loi handicap », et l’année 2008, quand a été signée la Charte de l’audiodescription entre les professionnels de l’audiovisuel et les associations représentatives du public aveugle et malvoyant. Enfin, en 2009, des professionnels du secteur se joignent à l’ESIT pour mettre au point la première formation professionnelle et qualifiante d’audiodescripteurs.  [

Pour ce qui est de l’Espagne, c’est justement la ONCE, l’Organisation Nationale des Aveugles Espagnoles, qui s’occupe de l’audiodescription. Après des contacts avec le Théâtre National de Chaillot, la ONCE registra le processus sous le nom de Sistema AUDESC et, en 1993, commença un programme de recherche et développement de l’audiodescription. Elle aussi a environ 300 films en audiodescription en VHS et DVD. Ces films n’étaient pas en commerce, et ils n’étaient accessibles que pour les membres de l’association. Heureusement, maintenant, des DVD avec audiodescription se trouvent dans le marché et ils sont doués d’un système de navigation accessible.

Description du processus

Donc, l’audiodescription permet aux personnes non-voyantes ou malvoyantes d’accéder à un spectacle, car elle peut s’appliquer à cinéma, théâtre, télévision, danse, expositions, et à toute expression artistique comportant des images inaccessibles à un public déficient visuel sans aide extérieure, comme nous dit toujours la page du Ministère.

Le processus de l’audiodescription peut être divisé en 4 phases :

―                la traduction

―                l’enregistrement

―                le mixage

―                le pressage

La première phase, dont je vais m’occuper dans mon discours, est celle de la traduction, car on considère les audiodescripteurs comme les traducteurs d’image. L’audiodescription est un type de traduction intersémiotique, parce que il faut passer du langage visuel à la langue parlée, donc, de l’image aux mots. Elle est aussi une traduction subordonnée, car le texte dépend de l’image et de l’espace qu’on a à disposition.

Même si l’audiodescription n’est pas un texte canonique, car elle manque de cohésion, et elle obtient du sens seulement si on l’accompagne de l’image, elle este un type de narration en pleine règle, car elle se base sur les éléments basiques qui forment une histoire : qui fait quoi, où et quand le fait.

La phase de traduction inclut l’analyse, c’est-à-dire le moment où l’audiodescripteur s’approche au film pour connaître ses composants. Il doit être capable de comprendre la structure de l’œuvre, les intentions de l’auteur et tous les éléments sonores et visuels pour pouvoir hiérarchiser les informations. C’est à lui de décider quels sont les éléments visuels à décrire, de définir le temps disponible pour le faire et les moments où placer les descriptions.

L’audiodescripteur doit être fidèle à l’image et à l’intention du créateur de l’œuvre, car il doit permettre que son publique reçoive les mêmes informations que ceux qui peuvent voir les images. Il doit donc restituer la charge émotionnelle de l’œuvre, sa sensation esthétique et sa signification sans pourtant donner une interprétation personnelle, sans juger et sans dévoiler des informations qui vont apparaître plus tard dans l’oeuvre. En réalité, l’audiodescripteur ne devrait pas résumer des éléments avant ou après qu’ils se produisent, mais plus avant dans ce discours je vous présenterais des exceptions à cette norme, car il n’est pas toujours possible de respecter cette règle en donnant toute l’information nécessaire.

Il ne faut pas oublier que le texte audiodescrit doit recréer le composant visuel de l’œuvre ; l’audiodescripteur doit donc avoir des connaissances cinématographiques, car il doit entendre le pourquoi des actions, des choix du directeurs, des cadrages, des couleurs utilisées, etc., pour pouvoir comprendre ce qui est important et ce qui ne l’est pas, et pouvoir ainsi le décrire. Ainsi, il doit avoir des compétences narratives et une parfaite maîtrise de la langue pour pouvoir recréer les images avec les mots et faire que se crée une image mentale immédiate dans les spectateurs.

Pour le faire, il faut décrire correctement les personnes mais aussi l’environnement. Dans le cas des personnages, l’aspect est très important, c’est-à-dire sa taille, sa constitution, ses cheveux, son visage, son age, etc., ainsi que ses vêtements. Il devra aussi décrire son attitude, les gestes et l’expression. Chaque pays a son style en audiodécrivant : en Allemagne, par exemple, on n’utilise pas de descriptions des sentiments, seulement de l’attitude ; en France c’est presque pareil, et en Espagne aussi, même si avant on tendait à donner plus d’importance aux sentiments. Au Royaume Uni, les descriptions sont très précises, avec beaucoup d’adjectifs et de verbes spécifiques, sans laisser des espaces de silence, tandis qu’en Espagne on préfère laisser des silences pour que le spectateur puisse créer ses images.

Dans la description de l’environnement, on préfère toujours décrire ce qui se meut face aux éléments statiques, et on décrit la décoration, l’illumination et les couleurs. L’emplacement est très important pour que le publique puisse se situer, voila pourquoi les éléments qui décrivent l’emplacement sont soulignés, en les plaçant au principe ou à la fin du fragment décrit.

Pour ce qui est de la morphosyntaxe, nous voyons une absence presque totale des passives et une prédominance des verbes au présent, les rares cas de futur on les trouve quand l’audiodescripteur est obligé à avancer quelque chose que va apparaître ou va passer plus tard. La syntaxe présente des propositions simples, des structures traditionnelles sujet + verbe + complément, et des propositions coordonnées dans la presque totalité.

Interpreters in movies special edition: Games of Interprethrones.

GOT

“Daenerys: They may suit my needs, tell me of their training Interpreter: The Westerosi woman is pleased with them but speaks no praise to keep the price down. She wishes to know how they are trained. Kraznys mo Nakloz: Tell her what she would know and be quick about it. The day is hot. Interpreter: They begin their training at five. Every day, they drill from dawn to dusk until they have mastered the short sword, the shields and the three spears. Only one boy in four survives this rigorous training. Their discipline and loyalty are absolute. They fear nothing. Ser Jorah: Even the bravest men fear death. Interpreter: The knight says even brave men fear death. Kraznys mo Nakloz: Tell the old man he smells of piss. Interpreter: Truly, Master? Kraznys mo Nakloz: No, not truly! Are you a girl or a goat to ask such a thing? Interpreter: My Master says the Unsullied are not men. Death means nothing to them. Kraznys mo Nakloz: Tell this ignorant whore of a Westerner to open her eyes and watch. Interpreter: He begs you attend this carefully, your grace. Daenerys: Tell your good Master there is no need Kraznys mo Nakloz: She’s worried about their nipples? Does the dumb bitch know we’ve cut off their balls? Interpreter: My Master points out that men don’t need nipples.”

 ***

Here I am again, surprisingly adding an extra post to the planned trilogy about interpreter in movies. That is a shock even for me since, as soon as I wrote the third part, I just wanted to delete everything. If I didn’t, it is because of the hard work done to complete it, and because I was happy with the result after all, if not of the things through which I passed to achieve it. I want to dedicate this post to the first episode of the third season of Game of Thrones, a TV series very special to me. In it, we have seen plenty of interpreting scenes, and I don’t want to analyse all of them, for different reasons. Among them, maybe the main one is the fact that the same mistakes are repeated over and over, due to the fact that the characters are improvised interpreters, as it has always been for centuries. In the new episode, however, we see a scene in which the interpreter seems to know her job, at least at the beginning (don’t worry, she’ll soon disappoint us); moreover, the scene is long enough, as you can see from the partial transcription I have included, and there are some subtitles which allow us to see the modifications introduced by the slave-interpreter. Just for those of you who don’t know the series: start watching it now! No, seriously, I will try to summarise something for you, although I know of great summaries, both on the internet and in person, and I don’t think I can get close to that. Daenerys is trying to have an army to fight against her enemies and win her kingdom back. To do that, she visits Astapor, the land of the Unsullied, the slaves famous for their skills in battle. There, she meets Kraznys mo Nakloz, the slave-trader, to obtain the soldiers she needs. It is here, during the negotiations, that we see this incredible interpreting performance. I think this example would disturb anyone with a vague idea of what interpreting is, you can imagine how I felt watching it and then attending a two hours session about interpreting protocol the day after. No wonder my friend and fellow interpreter Marta sent me a message as soon as she watched the episode, to tell me that it was interesting material for my blog. I don’t even know if there is any need to talk about the “He says” any more, I am so tired of that! The interpreter must speak in the first person when interpreting; if he/she uses the third person, it is exactly to express his/her own opinion, as in “the interpreter cannot hear the speaker”, or “the interpreter would like to ask the speaker not to read”. I am pretty sure some of you can remember me saying that more than once from the booth. The interpreter, in this episode, offers us the complete range of things not to do. She is not impartial, which is to expect, since she is the trader’s slave. The problem is that it doesn’t matter who pays you, you are invisible and impartial. And I say that keeping in mind that one of the most famous Spanish translators in Barcelona once said that, if one of the parties was in clear inferiority, he would act to favour it. With all the admiration for him, I don’t agree with this kind of conduct. But, let’s go back to our poor slave; in one of her first interventions, she shows us a great selection of don’ts: the third person, as I said, the adding information, and the expression of personal opinion. For once, you could be a good slave and don’t use your free will, and you miss the chance, well done! Her master does what any client attending trade shows organised by SOTUR does: gets lazy and asks the interpreter to answer directly. The difference is that, at SOTUR, the client at least explains the idea the first time, and you can interpret; then, you can repeat it again and again using your notes. It is not the best way of doing it, but it still is respectful enough. In the show, on the contrary, the interpreter becomes the speaker. It is not a case of culture broker, a role often used by the interpreter, when he/she explains cultural aspects quoted by the speaker; here, the mediator is the one delivering the original speech. Then, we have the apotheosis of what we don’t want to receive from the speaker, and what we should never do. I am going to repeat the interaction in here to make it clearer: “Kraznys mo Nakloz: Tell the old man he smells of piss.

Interpreter: Truly, Master?

Kraznys mo Nakloz: No, not truly! Are you a girl or a goat to ask such a thing?

“Tell the old man”? Who was absent during the pre-session, the master, who doesn’t know he has to address Daenerys, not the interpreter, or the slave, who didn’t illustrate that point? If that wasn’t enough, she brilliantly asks “Truly, Master?” Are you kidding me? Say what he said, for pity’s sake! I know that interpreting for your Master is not easy, and that few of us have the skills to do it remarkably, but you don’t even try, my poor girl!

Interpreters in movies part 3.

Presentación1

Pierre : Mais, comment ça se fait que vous traduisez aussi bien aussi vite?

Mathilde : On me paye pour ça, vous savez?

Pierre : Oui, oui, mais enfin, vous connaissez des termes techniques très précis sur les systèmes de stockage et l’ingénierie.

Mathilde : Aucun mérite.

***

Here I am, exactly as I said, talking about two more movies in which we see an interpreter. When I watched the first one, I thought for a moment that I could not finish this trilogy, because the subject was really too painful, but a little of fresh air and some good news helped me, and I managed to watch the second one as well. The result is even worse than before, because these two movies show very little of the work of an interpreter, but they represent perfectly his life. I am going to talk to you about Hector Babenco’s “El pasado” and Zabou Breitman’s “Je l’aimais”. I only want to inform you that I am going to spoil the movies so, please, be aware of that if you continue reading.

El pasado

Rimini and Sofia are a couple who is getting a divorce, the most peaceful divorce in history, it would seem. He is a translator, and at the beginning of the movie he works on subtitling some movies. After the separation, he starts a new life, but Sofia is always there, calling him and haunting him. It doesn’t matter how hard he tries to stay away from her and to be happy with his new relationships, she will keep stalking him. At some point, he’s offered to work as an interpreter, with an old friend from university. We don’t know how this is possible, but he falls madly in love with her after what can be a small congress of some days. After declaring his love, he gets sick and faints during a session of interpreting. It doesn’t matter, against all bets, this love story continues and they end up together but he gets really sick, possibly Alzheimer (no one, apart from Sofia, has the courage of pronouncing the word, too painful for anyone who relies on his memory to gain a living). From that moment on, everything falls around him, and brings him back to his life with Sofia; el pasado, after haunting him, has swallowed him, as in a perfect circular story. There is no improving in his life or, if there is, he loses it to go back to the beginning.

There is very little of the work of the interpreter to analyse, as I already said, but there is a lot of the psychology. At the beginning, he works on translating, both texts and videos. Nothing to criticise about that, I cannot subtitle a video without listening to the original through headphones but, I guess, if someone can, it is not a problem. When we see him and Carmen interpreting, instead, it is not completely convincing. Maybe it simply is that I never had the chance to work in a similar situation, but we have a French speaker, who talks at an unnatural slow speed, so slow that we hope none of our clients will ever speak like that, or we won’t be able to stay focused on our interpreting. The interpreters are sitting on a regular table on one side of the stage, and each one of them has a microphone. Not only the speaker is really slow, he also stops after every sentence; the interpreters, then, are doing a short consecutive, which is simply repeating the five words the poor man says every time. The only thing they could do to make the experience a little normal for the audience would be to keep a certain coherence, avoiding switching from one to the other every time, but no, they change every single time, passing from a female to a male voice constantly. Of course, it is better to let the poor colleague a little time to breath after having interpreted as much as five words!

This movie presents us one of the aspects of the life of an interpreter: the loneliness. One of my mentors and, also, one of my biggest inspirations, said that the working life of the interpreter is difficult, and that it is even more complicated to combine it with a satisfying personal life, especially in the case of women. As for men, he said, “it still is not a male profession, and the interpreters are not seen as alpha males at all.” It is funny, but it is true; I am going to generalise, I know many friends who are not like this at all. In any case, I think that female interpreters are big fighters, and they don’t want to share their life and success with anyone else, which is why their relationships don’t last. Male interpreters, on the contrary, are often more relaxed, and happy to have a stronger, leading woman on their side. Feel free to contradict me, but we see something similar in the movie; Rimini is supposedly good at what he does, but he can’t be happy with his own life. He was not happy with Sofia, but he is not capable of living without her, and keeps going back to her every time she stalks him. In his own words, it is a teenagers’ romance which lasted more than it should have, but the sad part is that it never really ends, because he is not able to live a life outside the security that story gave him.

Je l’aimais

Pierre is a man with a small company, and he is trying to expand his business. He travels to Hong Kong and he asks for an interpreter during the meeting with Mr Xing and his employees. The first approach with the interpreter is horrible, because he behaves like any other man when he realises his chances to close the deal are in the hands of a woman. We are at minute 35 and Pierre asks Mathilde, the interpreter, where is the man who was supposed to be working for him, and questions her competences with technical vocabulary.

In general, she doesn’t give a bad image of the interpreter; she does a pretty good bilateral interpreting, even if she switches from Chinese to English when talking to Mr Xing. She also speaks using the first person, at least until things get complicated. Pierre starts not making any sense, and Mathilde is professional enough as to stay neutral and try to help him, but the situation is so obvious that Mr Xing stops the meeting because he thinks Pierre “is falling in love and he doesn’t want to make a deal with a Frenchman who is falling in love”. We forgive her for saying this using the third person, because the interpreting has stopped and she is just trying to make the situation clear to the client. What would have been better, though, would have been to keep interpreting while they were speaking, instead of turning her head, as if blushing, and smiling happily at the insinuation. When she really disappoints us, however, is when, instead of defending the interpreter’s job after one more of Pierre’s statements doubting her capacities, she simply says that there is no merit in what she does. Honestly, there is plenty of merit in knowing the vocabulary of sectors you are not really interested in, and in having more knowledge of different fields than the supposed experts; but, why not? Diminish yourself, society doesn’t do it enough!

All the interpreting is relegated to these few minutes, 35-45, but the rest of the movie is so sadly related to that that it is difficult to watch. Mathilde waits for Pierre at the bar of his hotel, and they end up sleeping together. They don’t know each other, but they swear they are madly in love with each other. After all, as Connor says to Abby in “Primeval”:

 “When has that [not knowing someone] ever stopped people from fancying each other before?”

We see these two people living an affair around the world, meeting as soon as their jobs bring them close. It goes on for years, with him swearing his love, and maybe even believing in what he says, at least for a while. He even tries to make something serious out of the affair, but it gets scared and abandons the project. She also swears her love, and the more she does it, the more she seems to wish it was over; when he decides not to go for a life with her, she does the most stupid thing she can do: she keeps seeing him but trying to forget him when he is not there, pretending what they have is just a game. She only really finds the strength to let him go when, telling him she is pregnant, he asks who the father is. Is that serious? Is that the worse thing he did to you?

Actually, no, but that unfulfilling relationship was enough for her as long as she was living a full life as an interpreter travelling around, and she didn’t want something stable to stop her. When the idea of a child, with all the implications, presents itself, she realises she wants more from her man, but she doesn’t recognise Pierre as such. It is the curse of the alpha females, either they are happy with their jobs, or they are happy with their lifes, and we can only pray we will be one of those few who can have both sides of the coin!

Interpreters in movies part 2.

P

Peter Joshua: What are you going to do?

Regina Lampert: try and get my old job back at EURESCO I suppose.

Peter: Doing what?

Regina: I’m a simultaneous translator, like Sylvie, only she’s English into French and I’m French into English.

 ***

Segundas partes nunca fueron buenas, that’s what they say in Spanish (“Shrek 2” is the exception, of course.) In this case, I would say that neither was the first one, but I have been overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness on the previous post about this subject. I hope I will keep this one on the same level. As soon as I published the other article, I realised that some of my favourite movies have interpreters in them (my loving them and the presence of the interpreter are not related, though.) In this post, I am going to analyse the image of the interpreter in Stanley Donen’s “Charade”, in Sophia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” and in Alan Grint’s “The Greek interpreter”, season 2 episode 2 of “The adventures of Sherlock Holmes”.

 Charade

In this movie, Audrey Hepburn is Regina Lampert, a woman chased by her dead husband’s associates in crime. Without a dime (her husband sold everything before dying) but with an incredible number of Givenchy clothes, Regina decides to go back to her old job: simultaneous interpreter at EURESCO. In fact, she says: “simultaneous translator”, as it was common some time ago, and as it still is in Italy.

The plot is quite good, and so is the cast, which includes, apart from Ms Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, George Kennedy and James Coburn. The details about interpreting, on the other hand, are not that realistic. First of all, at minute 47, Regina says: “What that has got to do with the CIO?” to what Matthau/Bartholomew answers: “CIA, Mrs Lampert, CIA!” Now, I am not sure about how the work was in the ‘60s, but I find it unlikely that an interpreter working for an international organization doesn’t know the acronym CIA, considering that, back then, the agency had already been operative since 15 years.

Another puzzling part is the one in the booths, starting at minute 1:25:20. Here, we see Sylvie, interpreter in the French booth, standing in the English one and talking with Regina, while the floor is taken by an Italian speaker. Seriously, I have several questions about this part:

–         Why are they alone in the booths? Was that normal before? It seems pretty strange, considering that nothing is coming out from the French and English booths while another language is spoken. Where is the other interpreter covering for that combination? Don’t tell me they could not manage to have a perfect cover of all language needs as we did this summer!

–         Assuming they really are one in each booth, how can Sylvie leave hers uncovered? You can abandon your colleague for a while, or worse. As Elena once said: “La confianza con el compañero nos hace hacer cosas asquerosas en la cabina.” To be clear, she was talking about me eating onion tortilla before going in the booth.

–         I don’t even know if there is a point in asking how Peter can enter like that in the booth, let alone kissing her and distracting her. Talking about that, a professional interpreter would not repeat her sentence, no matter how hard the other person is trying to seduce her, or so I think. I still have yet to try this, however.

Two things, though, are realistic enough: the first one is her way of keeping one ear always free from the headset; the second one is the image of the public staring at the booth when they start talking about their business with the microphone on. I know for sure that happens a lot more than we would like to admit, and I know several funny anecdotes; also I remember checking constantly if the light was off while talking with a friend and colleague about lovers during a break.

As I said, I love this movie, partly because Audrey Hepburn is one of my favourite actresses, and partly, as I said once talking about “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, because I am not a romantic person and I need romance in movies! In any case, all my love for it and for her cannot blind my interpreter’s point of view; this movie needed some expert advisor on that sense.

Lost in translation

 This is another great movie, not only because of the actors, but in general. I love how they play with the lights and the colours to describe the different states of minds and feelings, or the choice of space and locations to indicate the characters’ abstraction and loneliness. Moreover, of course, I love the part about communication and languages, often just implied, but always incredibly clear. For those of you who don’t know the movie, the two main characters are a famous American actor (Bill Murray/Bob Harris) and a young American graduate (Scarlett Johansson/Charlotte). They are in Tokyo, he is there to film a whisky ad, and she is following her husband, a photographer, who is also there to work. Neither of them can sleep, and neither of them is happy. Lost in a city they don’t know, surrounded by a language and a culture they don’t understand, they enter in contact with the Japanese life through all the visual inputs the city offers them.

Harris has an interpreter who helps him communicate with the director and, in this case, we can see the clichés we associate with oriental languages being represented. We are at minute 9, and the director explains with a lot of emphasis how he would like Harris to act. After all that, half a minute of really serious and deep explanation, the interpreter simply says: “He want you to turn, look in camera, ok?” Harris, following the cliché, and everybody’s thoughts, replies: “That’s all he said?” The same happens the other way, with Harris asking a simple question and the interpreter doing a monologue for the director. I don’t want to judge the quality of the interpreting or the reality of the scene, because I know that is not the point of the movie. As far as I am concerned, she is not even an interpreter, I think she is a secretary who works for the production and happens to speak English. The whole point of this scene is to show us how alienated the protagonist is, and his face says it all, shows the despair he feels in a world he doesn’t understand and in where he doesn’t belong. The whole scene is mockery, but we feel it real, we receive the struggle and the suffering and we can only chuckle bitterly.

 The Greek interpreter

To be brief, and to avoid spoiling the plot, I will only say that, in this episode, Holmes helps a Greek interpreter who has been recruited for a job and dragged into a crime. I have to admit that, although I am a great fan of Sir Conan Doyle’s books, which I keep rereading both in Italian and English since I was 13, I am not extremely pleased with many of the screen adaptations of those stories. The modern “Sherlock”, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, is maybe the only one that doesn’t disappoint me at all; that is because, despite the fact that it is transferred to present day London, it respects the original characters with all their details, if not the stories 100%. “Sherlock Holmes”, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, is not a bad series of movies, and it tries to respect the original as far as Hollywood allows it. In them, though, we see a London more suited for a Tim Burton’s movie, with some hints of “Dr Jekill and Mr Hyde” and a little of Jack the Ripper. It would be silly to say that we can forgive that thanks to the main actors, because they are an incredible pleasure for our eyes, but they also are the farthest I can imagine from the original Holmes and Watson; the only relation between Downey Jr and Sherlock is, maybe, the debauched life style they led. Anyway, going back to the beginning, this series I want to analyse lacks a little of the wittiness that is an important part of the books.

The episode that I quote shows us, again, some of the “don’ts” of the interpreting profession. At minute 10, one of the first statements of our interpreter is: “For many years I have been the chief Greek interpreter in London,” and Sherlock’s face is as skeptical as we will be when, around minute 16, we see him in action. The situation is very dangerous and stressful, we must admit that, but the “chief Greek interpreter in London” should be more used to tension and should handle it a little better. We forgive him for adding or modifying the sentences, because he is more concerned for the guy’s life, but we cannot forgive him for keeping saying: “He says” or “He writes”, there is no excuse for that!

***

I hope you enjoyed this post, and that it gave you something to think about, either if you share my point of view or if you don’t. And here comes the serious danger: there should be a third part, dedicated to two more movies, and then my first trilogy will be done.

Interpreters in movies.

PresentaciónSilvia Broome: I’m for peace and quiet, mister Lud, it’s why I came to the UN, quiet and diplomacy.

Nils Lud: But… with respect, you only interpret.

Silvia: Countries have gone to war because they misinterpreted one another.”

***

This was supposed to be my favourite but unfinished post, but then I chose the wrong moment to watch the wrong movie, and here I am, not sure about how much of what I am feeling will come out instead of my knowledge. From the beginning, my apologies for that. The aim of this article is to analyse the image of the interpreter in movies, and to see if this image is correct or if there are mistakes. The reason why I said “unfinished” is because I will be talking about three movies, but I plan to write more as soon as I find more of them.

Of course, one of the movies I will talk about is Sydney Pollack’s “The Interpreter”, and here come the problems. I watched this movie long time ago, and I tried to avoid watching it again since then. It is not a bad movie, simply it is one of those you cannot watch too many times or, at least, I cannot. After deciding I wanted to write this post, though, I just knew that I had to go back to it, and so I did yesterday. Now I know it was a bad idea or, at least, a bad timing, because the movie shows too much of what I don’t need to see right now and too little of what that title makes me suppose. Who knows me can think that the problem is Nicole Kidman, but no, not this time. I think there is just too much implied in this movie that is painful for me in this exact moment of my life.

Anyway, alea iacta est, I watched it again, I have swallowed the bad feelings and the questions are ready. The other movies I will analyse are Peter Howitt’s “Johnny English Reborn” and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Babel”. Let’s start!

 The Interpreter

Silvia Broome is an interpreter for the United Nations, she works at the Headquarters and she is part of the English booth. Her combination seems to be Spanish-French>English, but we immediately discover that she also speaks Ku, an African language which will be crucial for the plot. We can see several interpreting scenes during the movie, although not too many. One of the first ones is a speech at the General Assembly, and we can directly see something that is not really convincing. The speaker is addressing the audience in Spanish, and we can hear the different booths going into the other five official languages; we start and end with Silvia Broome. In this case, she is anticipating the speaker (we are at minute 6:25). This can happen (even if it should not), but it is kind of unlikely at the beginning of a sentence. We can assume they are implying she has the script in front, because the other interpreter has a document and she is reading it. In that case, an interpreter could anticipate the speaker, but she would and should be even more careful and leave a bigger gap, especially in an ideal situation in which the speaker is going to such a comfortable and easy to manage speed.

Around minute 15:00, Silvia is asked to interpret Ku during a private meeting. In this case, there are some things of which I am not convinced, and I hope some of my readers can clarify them to me, since some of them work for the UN. We see the interpreter standing, with a notebook on her hands, taking notes but doing a mix of consecutive and simultaneous interpreting. These conditions are often common in the market, but I do not expect the UN to have the interpreter standing while taking notes if she can be comfortable and do her job properly. Just because Francine Kaufmann did not stand for the rights of interpreters when they took her umbrella to give it to Madame Mitterrand does not mean that we should all accept this kind of treatment or that everyone treats interpreters without the respect they deserve! Moreover, she is not doing a consecutive, which is the way it should be done, since she is the only interpreter for both parties; she is simply doing a kind of “out loud chouchotage”. Is this normal in this kind of meetings?

The most puzzling moment is when, at minute 52:50, a janitor is speaking Portuguese and the interpreter from the French booth is interpreting into English for the policemen, and she shows us some of the “don’ts” of the profession:

–         He says he wasn’t here, I think.

She does not speak Portuguese, because she cannot understand a basic statement that even I understand, but they still choose her to interpret, instead of any of the other UN interpreters who, no doubt, have Portuguese among their working languages. Moreover, she uses the clauses an interpreter should never use because they make him visible (the ones I put in bold.)

What surprises me are not the mistakes by themselves, but the fact that a director, who for the first time obtained from the Secretary General (at that time, mister Kofi Annan) the permission to film a movie at the UNHQ, could not have an interpreter supervising the scenes and correcting the mistakes. How is that possible?

Johnny English Reborn 

This is the second episode of the parody of James Bond which sees Rowan Atkinson as one of the British secret agents. Towards the end (1:21:30), English ends up replacing one of the interpreters during the meeting between the British and the Chinese Prime Ministers.

The situation is not really conventional, with the dignitaries and the interpreters closed in a sort of capsule surrounded by the guards and technicians. We see the interpreters sitting in higher and less comfortable chairs than the politicians, which is a realistic situation, even if the situation would require smaller chairs to avoid bending excessively when whispering. The most doubtful details, though, are the absence of a notebook and a pen on the interpreter’s lap, and the short consecutive that both him and English are performing instead of the chuchotage, which would be the obvious choice in that situation. Again, a little check with an interpreter would have helped smoothing these points.

Babel 

I have talked already about this movie on a previous post, so I will not dedicate too much space to the general story in here. What interests me this time is the character of the guide/interpreter who helps Brad Pitt. Obviously, we know he is not a professional interpreter and, in general, tourist guides are not, even if they present themselves as such. Moreover, I cannot judge the quality of the interpretation, since I do not speak the second language used, but I can judge his interpreting behaviour at least.

The example I am using is the interaction with the policeman starting at minute 1:32:14. In this case, we can see the interpreter sympathising with Pitt and (so it seems without knowing the language) summarising what the policeman says, instead of interpreting it. It would be good to know if, when Pitt is swearing, he repeats that or not. In theory, he should, but the interpreter has here the freedom of choosing less rude words to help the client obtaining his goal. It is not professional, but it is a common acting when one of the parties is in a position of inferiority and we want to help. At the end, he does not translate the “Fuck you”, and stops interpreting to follow Pitt. That is a normal behaviour for a guide, while an interpreter would finish his job before leaving.

In any case, I do not consider these as mistakes of the movie, because I think this is exactly the way a non professional interpreter would act. My aim with this last movie was to show what is commonly done and what, instead, would be done if using a professional interpreter.

 ***

As I said, this was just an analysis I wanted to do based on three well known movies, and I hope to be able to find more examples to use for another post. Just one last thing, if you want to know more about Francine Kaufmann’s anecdote, I found it in Pour une ethique du traducteur (Anthony Pym. Arras, Artois Presses Université, Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa, 1997), but you can easily read the English version in here.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Translations

harry-potter-dining-hall

Salve a tutti, eccomi nuovamente qua, dopo vari giorni di silenzio, a farvi i miei auguri di buone feste e a regalarvi questo post, acido come sempre. È da un po’ che stavo pensando di scriverlo, ma poi abbandonavo sempre il progetto, per un motivo o per un altro. Sicuramente, la difficoltà del tema non ha aiutato, e neppure l’esempio che volevo citare, quello della saga di Harry Potter, che mostra scelte traduttive azzardate e, spesso, altamente criticabili.

Sappiamo già che tradurre, contrariamente a ciò che tanti dicono, non è una cosa facile, non basta conoscere due lingue per essere un traduttore. Veramente, neppure conoscere due lingue è cosa da poco (sto parlando di conoscerle realmente, non di essere capaci di andare in un bar in un paese straniero e comprare due succhi di frutta, quello lo so fare anche in lingue che non conosco).

Durante i primi anni di scuola, imparando una lingua straniera, o anche solo il latino, abbiamo lavorato spesso a cosiddette traduzioni che, in realtà, erano semplicemente esercizi volti a imparare il vocabolario o a usare le regole di grammatica appena studiate. Non era altro che un lavoro di frammentazione di testi, spesso creati appositamente per quello scopo, frasi o capoversi decontestualizzati, trasferiti parola per parola nell’altra lingua. Questo tipo di lavoro è più simile a una vivisezione che a una traduzione. Per essere più precisi, credo somigli abbastanza alle lezioni di medicina in cui si sezionano i cadaveri: lo scopo non è quello di far funzionare nuovamente il corpo, solo di capire come funziona ogni singolo organo per poi essere capaci di curare o operare un essere umano vivo.

Per tradurre, servono tante competenze che non si acquisiscono automaticamente imparando una lingua, perché la traduzione non è un semplice travaso da un codice linguistico a un altro. In realtà, quella è la parte minore dell’attività traduttiva: tradurre è più un lavoro di mediazione tra due culture, a volte vicine ma non per forza; è trasmettere un messaggio in modo che il destinatario riceva tutto ciò che ha ricevuto il lettore originale; è ricreare, nella lingua d’arrivo, la stessa realtà che c’era nella lingua di partenza. Ci dice la professoressa Hurtado che la “traducción es […] un acto de comunicación complejo y hay que tener en cuenta todos los elementos que la integran en cada caso, ya que todos ellos participan en su desarrollo y la condicionan” (2001: 41), e Danica Seleskovitch afferma che “traduire signifie transmettre le sens des messages que contient un texte et non convertir en une autre langue la langue dans laquelle il est formulé” (Seleskovitch e Lederer, 1984 : 256).

Spesso, questo lavoro ci pone davanti delle scelte difficili, e sta al traduttore decidere quali di quelle, secondo lui, siano le più corrette, ben sapendo che, qualunque opzione prediliga, verrà contestato. Senza dubbio, una decisione spesso criticata, ma anche molto coraggiosa, è stata quella della versione italiana di Harry Potter. In questo caso, la traduttrice, al momento di lavorare al primo volume della serie, si è trovata davanti nomi propri con chiari riferimenti ai caratteri o all’aspetto dei personaggi e delle case, nomi comuni inventati, creature fantastiche e quant’altro. Il compito di rendere tutto ciò in italiano non era facile, perché il dubbio principale era se fosse preferibile lasciarli in originale, rispettando ciò che aveva creato l’autrice, ma facendo perdere tanto al lettore della traduzione, o adattarli alla lingua d’arrivo, inventando i nomi e avvicinandoli alla nostra cultura. In entrambi i casi, si sarebbe perso qualcosa. Inoltre, bisogna anche tenere in conto che quello era solo il primo di sette libri, e che gli altri sei non erano ancora stati scritti; quindi, ogni decisione poteva avere delle serie ripercussioni sulle traduzioni successive.

La scelta, dal mio punto di vista, non è stata sempre fortunata. Capisco, per esempio, le versioni italiane, seppure estreme, dei nomi dei personaggi, perché aiutano ad avere un’idea più chiara dei caratteri, cosa che l’originale non avrebbe ottenuto. Ci sono, comunque, decisioni dubbie, come quella di passare da Dumbledore a Silente, visto che le due idee sono abbastanza in contrasto e danno due visioni diverse del preside. Mi piace, invece, la traduzione di muggles con una parola come babbani che, seppure inventata, è formata secondo i criteri della lingua italiana, e rende la lettura molto più scorrevole di quanto non succeda con la versione spagnola, che ha tenuto l’originale.

Sono, invece, totalmente contraria alla scelta di usare i nomi delle contrade del Palio di Siena per le case di Hogwarts. Sono nomi già esistenti, strettamente legati a una realtà tipicamente italiana che nulla ha a che fare con quella del libro, e il loro utilizzo è semplicemente fuorviante, oltre che rischioso. Inoltre, esteticamente non richiamano i quattro simboli delle case originali, tanto che, nel quarto volume della saga, la traduttrice è costretta a cambiarne uno, perché l’emblema è totalmente diverso da quello usato dalla Rowling, e ad aggiungere una nota alla traduzione (che potete trovare qui) per spiegare il motivo del cambio.

In questo caso, probabilmente, sarebbe stato meglio non azzardare così tanto, e scegliere un nome, simile all’originale per assonanza e descrizione, che non creasse troppi problemi, visto che in questa saga nulla è lasciato al caso; la simbologia è molto importante, e modificarla anche solo in parte all’inizio rischia di causare una reazione a catena che può generare una valanga nell’ultimo libro. Nella riedizione dell’opera, avendo finalmente a disposizione la storia completa, e consapevole dei problemi, la stessa casa editrice italiana ha deciso di apportare delle modifiche alla traduzione originale, in modo da rendere i libri uniformi e da limare le differenze con l’inglese, così come ci spiega l’editore in una nota sul sito.

Credo che l’autrice abbia preso troppo sul serio, portandola addirittura all’estremo, l’idea di equivalenza dinamica propugnata da Nida: non si è limitata ad avvicinare l’opera alla nostra cultura per renderla più intelligibile, ha direttamente trasferito Harry Potter, un libro chiaramente ambientato nelle terre britanniche contemporanee, in un mondo medievale italiano che nulla ha a che fare con l’originale.

In questo caso, penso che l’autrice si sia concessa una libertà eccessiva, ma è il mio punto di vista, visto che considero la traduzione come un’attività testuale e comunicativa, piuttosto che come un puro atto  comunicativo che prescinde dal testo di partenza pur di comunicare il senso in quello d’arrivo. So che molti non condividono le mie opinioni, e sono pronta ad accettare commenti e critiche, ma mi chiedo se sia vero ciò che ci dice Nida sull’equivalenza dinamica, e cioè che “as long as the change follows the rules of back transformation in the source language of contextual constituency in the transfer, and of transformation in the receptor language, the message is preserved and the translation is faithful” (Nida e Taber, 1982: 200), perché mi sembra che siamo un po’ lontani dalla fedeltà. Ma, in fondo, chi sono io per giudicare questo aspetto, soprattutto dopo aver chiamato il mio blog Une belle infidèle?