More translated food for thought: Am I my film maker’s keeper?

Lost in Translation isn’t just a movie, but what happens when we try to map one culture onto another. It’s like a game of Broken Telephone, where what goes in doesn’t always come out the same at the other end. Where’s a good Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Babel fish when you need one?

Here are a few translated films and their countries of origin.*


Risky Business Just Send Him To University Unqualified China
The Spy Who Shagged Me The Spy Who Behaved Very Nicely Around Me Malaysia
The Dark Knight Knight of the Night Mexico
Annie Hall Urban Neurotic Germany
You Only Live Twice 007 Dies Twice Japan
The Cat in The Hat Cat, Don’t Touch This Hat! Croatia
Grease Vaseline Argentina
Lost in Translation Meetings and Failures in Meetings Portugal

No doubt, Bob Harris, the American actor hamming his way through Japanese advertising in Lost in Translation as played by Bill Murray, would have been amused. For the most part, though, Sophia Copola’s film escapes the worst of mangled translations, simply called Lost in Translation in many foreign markets, although in Quebec it was translated as Traduction Infidèle and in Hispanic-America as Perdidos en Tokio.

How did a few other films turn out, say for those of Pedro Almodóvar and Alfred Hitchcock, going from Spanish to English for Almodóvar and vice versa for Hitchcock? Perhaps these two great film makers can help clarify the Spanish-English-Spanish makeover.

Almodóvar’s films are almost exact in their translations, from his first Pepi, Luci, Bom, y otras chicas del montón (Pepi, Luci, Bom) to his most recent Los amantes pasajeros (I’m So Excited). Even when word order might make things tricky, All About My Mother is literal to a point as Todo sobre mi madre. Volver doesn’t change at all, as if challenging English audiences to learn a bit of Spanish, albeit in this case only one word (return). About the only thing that gets translated in an Almodóvar film title are the capital letters. Although, in fairness ¡Átame! gets a Hollywood makeover as Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, extra exclamation point included, and Entre tinieblas becomes Dark Habits.

Hitchcock on the other hand gets a hardier makeover. North by Northwest is the weirdest, becoming With Death On The Heels, and Marnie needs an extra The Thief. Even Psycho gets a slight tweak to Psychosis, lessening the villainy it would seem of a person to a disease. See the table below for more translations with retranslated titles where different (via Google Translate).

Two of the more Almodovarian sounding films The Trouble with Harry and The Wrong Man become But … Who Killed Harry? and False Guilty, although perhaps the most Almodovarian The Man Who Knew Too Much gets a clean bill, yet becomes En manos del destino in Central America and Mexico. In other Spanish-speaking countries, Vertigo is De entre los muertos.

One wonders if it is easier to translate sentiments and ideas of Spanish films into English rather than in reverse, especially when the titles are as direct as Almodóvar’s compared to the purposely oblique thriller titles of Hitchcock.

In this limited survey, it would seem things get changed more by Spanish translators. Is this because of a need to appease the minority culture in the face of the onslaught of world English and the dominance of Hollywood myth making? Food For Thought? Comida para pensar?

Almodóvar Spanish to English

Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón Pepi, Luci, Bom
Laberinto de pasiones Labyrinth of Passion
Entre tinieblas Dark Habits
¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto? What Have I Done to Deserve This?
Matador Matador
La ley del deseo Law of Desire
Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
¡Átame! Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
Tacones lejanos High Heels
Kika Kika
La flor de mi secreto The Flower of My Secret
Carne trémula Live Flesh
Todo sobre mi madre All About My Mother
Hable con ella Talk to Her
La mala educación Bad Education
Volver Volver
Los abrazos rotos Broken Embraces
La piel que habito The Skin I Live In
Los amantes pasajeros I’m So Excited

Hitchcock English to Spanish (and back where different)

Lifeboat Náufragos Castaway
Spellbound Cuéntame tu vida Tell Me Your Life
Notorious Tuyo es mi corazón Yours Is My Heart
Under Capricorn Atormentada Tormented
Rope La soga The Rope
Strangers on a Train Extraños en un tren
I Confess Yo confieso
Rear Window La ventana indiscreta
Dial M for Murder Para atrapar al ladrón
The Trouble with Harry Pero… ¿quién mató a Harry? But … Who Killed Harry?
The Man Who Knew Too Much El hombre que sabía demasiado
The Wrong Man Falso culpable False Guilty
Vertigo Vértigo
North by Northwest Con la muerte en los talones With Death On The Heels
Psycho Psicosis Psychosis
The Birds Los pájaros
Marnie Marnie, la ladrona Marnie, The Thief
Torn Curtain Cortina rasgada
Topaz Topaz
Frenzy Frenesí
Family Plot La Trama The Plot

* For more translated titles, see Screen Crush and Short List.


About johnkwhi

I have worked as a writer, computational analyst, project manager, physicist, and lecturer during a 30-year career. I recently published the general trade book Do The Math! On Growth, Greed, and Strategic Thinking (Sage, 2012), aimed at improving general numeracy, and The House of Words (Tuttle House, 2013), a literary thriller starring New York Scrabble champ Suzy Q. I recently moved to Spain and started this Caracolas blog to record some of my experiences.
This entry was posted in Spain and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *