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?
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 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. Full stop. 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 sub-titles? 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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