Going to the movies is a universal pleasure but one that can become fraught with complications when living (or even holidaying) in a foreign country that isn’t English-speaking. How do you find a film in English? Read on to discover which movies in France are shown in English and how to understand the programme.
In some European countries – I’m thinking Scandinavia in particular – all films are screened in their original language but that isn’t the case in France which has a love affair with the dreaded dubbing. I say “dreaded” because, you’ve guessed it, I hate dubbing. I think a film loses so much when the original actors’ voices are replaced. No matter how great the actor is doing the dubbing, I just don’t think they can get into the part as much as the original actor and as a consequence, some emotion is lost.
But it’s not just that, it’s also the fact that the characters’ mouths move differently to the words being said which is distracting and off-putting and finally the fact that I often know the voice of the original actor which makes the sound coming out just plain wrong. Think Sean Connery, or Judi Dench, Emma Thompson, Clint Eastwood or Meryl Streep – they all have such distinctive voices, even when using different accents, that just can’t be replaced by a French voice (as far as I’m concerned!)
So, knowing that France loves dubbing, is it possible to see a film in English? The answer, thankfully, is oui yes! You have to look for the addition of the letters VOST which stand for “version originale sous titrée” (original version with subtitles), or a variation of this including VOSTF / VOSTFR or just VO. Depending on where you are in France there can be lots of choice in VO to almost none at all.
In general the more foreigners there are in the area, the more likely films will be in VO. In the big multiplexes in Paris almost all films are screened in their original language. In some areas there might be only one cinema that shows VO once a month though. On the Côte d’Azur it’s getting easier to see movies in English. Surprisingly, considering the vast numbers of foreign residents, most films are still in VF (version française) but more and more cinemas are holding screenings in VO, you just need to search the local listings carefully.
Two little tips to remember: some films in France have their title changed, some don’t. Just because the title is in French doesn’t mean there won’t be a VO version and above all note that VO doesn’t necessarily mean English (example circled in red above). This last point might seem obvious but I fell into that particular trap even after 10 years or so in France.
I went to see the film “The Kite Runner” having adored the book (written in English). It was billed as being VO. For me, that meant English. Hah! The first 10 minutes or so were in English, as the action was set in the US, but once it moved to Afghanistan, where the rest of the film took place, the original language was….Dari!
A bit of a surprise admittedly, though not a disaster for me as I could read the French subtitles. Not so for my non-French-speaking friend!
What do you think about dubbing? Does it bug you? Do you like watching films with subtitles? I’d love to hear from you. Comments are always very happily received and (nearly) always answered!
The photo of the film kisses above is taken in Cannes where many walls are painted with cinematic themes to celebrate Cannes’ relationship with the movies. Find out more about Cannes cinema street art here.
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Hi, I live in Sarlat Dordogne & our local cinema’ manager has a very understanding attitude to ‘us Brits’ and other nationalities when it comes to films being shown in VO. Invariably there is a smattering of VO films on the programme. BUT he seems to hit a brick wall with the French Disney organisations attitude towards VO. They have a general policy of NO VO, especially towards animated films. (How do you replicate Robin Williams voice in Aladdin, for example) I have written to Disney and received a vague policy reply that they don’t disclose policy between Disney & individual cinemas. Very helpful!! How does one progress from there? The UK is quite content to show foreign films with subtitles why can’t EU countries reciprocate? Protectionism in the arts, not a very welcoming attitude towards ‘brotherhood/sisterhood’ !!
12 years…was phenomenal! So powerful; all round excellent film. I also enjoyed Philomena. Both are very emotional.
I have since seen the Kite Runner and did enjoy it, whilst simultaneously thanking my lucky stars we didn’t see the VO version. It was at a time I doubt my French would would have coped. Did you enjoy 12 Years A Slave? I saw a preview this afternoon when I went to see Philomena and thought it looked a real tear jerker. Philomena was great though, albeit emotional.
Thanks for your input Robin, I hope you get here one day too.
How funny Rosie that you nearly saw the Kite Runner thinking it was in English too! It was a great film so I recommend you try to see it one day. I also agree with you about using sub-titles to understand thick accents (I saw 12 years a slave a couple of days ago and found the sub-titles vital at times with those southern US accents!!)
Phoebe, what an informative article for those looking to find a film in English in France. I am with you. I also think a film loses so much when the original actors’ voices are replaced. Thank you for sharing this information and hopefully I will be making it to France one day.
Like you I can’t stand dubbing for all the reasons you have said and one more on top. When I am listening to someone speaking French I lip read a lot and dubbing makes this impossible. I even notice when watching dubbed cartoons that the characters’ mouths are not “right”. As for the Kite Runner we almost fell into exactly the same trap as you but ended up missing the film because we couldn’t get a babysitter! I am now always careful to check that the VO film they are showing is actually English speaking!
This part of Normandy is actually really good for VO films – most cinemas show at least one VO a month and I’m off to see Philomena on Sunday. And when watching the film “The Angel’s Share” I was really pleased it was subtitled in French as there were a few times the Glaswegian accent was so string I needed to read the French to understand what they had said!