Ever since I arrived in Spain I’ve been fascinated and disturbed by the culture of movies here. The market is widely saturated by films from the U.S., but in their dubbed and title-changed versions. And the Spaniards wonder why their level of English is so far behind the rest of Europe? American movies and television dubbed into Spanish are certainly a culprit.

This weekend I saw the excellent film The Departed. Spanish title? Infiltrados. That is, “the infiltrators.” Can we possibly lack any more creativity? As I refuse to pay to see a dubbed movie, I saw it in its original version with subtitles at my favorite theater, Cine Ideal. I can’t stand when the lips moving and what I’m hearing don’t match. Also, I value the actors and the nuances of the way they speak. I don’t want to hear some Spanish man or woman whose voice sounds curiously the same as every other dubber but not like anyone I actually know or hear on the street.

The Spaniards I know who balk at seeing a movie in versión original argue that they don’t like reading subtitles and that dubbing is necessary here because so much is imported from the States. I never thought twice about seeing a subtitled movie in the U.S.–it always felt so exotic. Hearing the actors’ voices, even if I didn’t understand a word of what they were saying, seemed an important element of their characters. I encourage my English students to go see movies in versión original. Even if they are reading the whole time, their ears are taking in some English.

I do like to read the Spanish subtitles here because I’m interested in how they translate things. In The Departed it was a lesson in translations of vulgarities. Watching that particular film, however, made me realize that no matter how much I bash dubbing, there are great shortcomings to subtitles as well. The Spanish I was reading at the bottom of the screen seemed so formal in comparison to the foul-mouthed Boston accents coming in my ears. There is no way the translator could ever capture all the slang spit out by Mark Wahlberg or Leonardo DiCaprio. But, at least we could hear what their accents were like.

Today I had another adventure in the world of dubbing. We took about 100 kids from school to see a free movie at an international children’s film festival here in Madrid. We arrived slightly late and I was surprised when I entered the theater to to hear that the movie was in English. I do work at a bilingual school, but my kids have a long way to go. But no, there was a voice coming from the back of the theater–in its dull monotone I thought it was someone directing us to our seats. No no. It was a guy reading a translation of the film into Spanish, just slightly behind the English dialogue. You know, like an interpreter at a meeting between politicians from different countries. They’d turned down the volume of the original so we could hear this guy’s completely boring voice and it just about put me to sleep.

The second graders seemed entertained enough by the pretty inane and poorly animated version of the nutcracker story. The fifth graders were definitely fidgety for most of the time. And no one laughed at any of the jokes.


2 Responses to “Infiltrados”

  1. 1 BaronDandy Thursday, 5 April, 2007 at 11:39 pm


    Está muy bien tu blog, es divertido.
    El doblaje no es exclusivo de España!
    En USA también doblan las que no vienen en inglés.

    Un saludo

  2. 2 Andrés Wednesday, 23 May, 2007 at 10:25 pm

    I totally agree, the film festival story is unbelievable. I’m spanish and I haven’t paid to see a dubbed film in ages, but I admit that’s kind of unusual. Dubbing as an awful tradition that is not about to change i’m afraid.
    It is also one of the reasons why spanish people can’t speak english, and usually have it rough when trying to learn any language. So hard to fight against traditions, I’m glad I live in a big city and have the choice of V.O. Ideal is one of my favorites as well.


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