Visualising the translation: subtitling Pawlikowski’s Ida

(c) Music Box Films (US distributor

(c) Music Box Films (US distributor)

Poland’s first Oscar for a ‘foreign language film’ went to Pawlikowski’s Ida this morning. Turning it from ‘foreign’ into English was not an easy process even for a film that the director, Paweł Pawlikowski, himself said in his acceptance speech is ‘about silence’.
Pawlikowski was involved in the subtitle translation process for the English and was very happy with the results; but unfortunately, though he speaks German, the German was translated second-hand from the English and a lot of nuance was lost.
Pawlikowski was also aware of a key aspect of translation that a lot of people miss: the visual impact.   Having translated wordy German for what should concise and visually pleasing mobile apps myself, I have some idea of what he means – the words might be right, but how do they fit on the screen with everything else that’s going on? Pawlikowski realised this when editing and came up with the best solution he could find: to stop subtitles cutting across the actor’s faces, he moved them to the top of the screen. But the audience didn’t know how to react to this break with convention; was it an attempt at humour? And even worse; on the DVD, the subtitles are back at the bottom. What’s the solution? Let’s not have a return to the horror of the lektor: Learn Polish and turn them off! Of course this isn’t feasible, and at least this director realised that his film would have an international impact and that has implications for the translation.
I’d love to believe that in the future Oscars won’t make a distinction between ‘English language’ and ‘foreign language’ films at all; but surely more directors will follow Pawlikowski’s creative response to the impact of translating their work.
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Posted in film, international, language, translation

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