Saturday, June 16, 2007

Fictional Nostalgie...

I just saw Day Watch, a sequel to Night Watch - two films directed by Timur Bekhmambetov, and as far as I can tell, the first two Russian films to be widely released in the US since Burnt by The Sun in 1994. Russian cinema has a lot of great qualities, and I can't help but be upset that science fiction chock full of special effects is what it takes to show a Russian film in mainstream movie theatres. However, the films are great, the second one better than the first. You don't have to have seen Night Watch to enjoy Day Watch, as they recap the previous film for you (in English...Grrr...) in the first 5 minutes. Russian culture has long been aping Hollywood and American culture in general, so it's refreshing to see a film based on a Russian novel, filmed in Russia, and showing contemporary Russia without being judgmental or glorifying it.

As is the danger with foreign films always, the subtitles (rather, people who write copy for subtitles) have that issue of "literal translation" vs "how do we make it clear enough that Americans won't get lost when we keep calling a character 3 different names". I usually read the subtitles to see how faithful to the script the English language experience is. Today, a couple of times it was clear that there were 3 Russian speakers in the house - we all laughed at the following scene:

A witch goes to the bathroom in a cafe. (it's fantasy, bear with me.) We hear toilet flushing. Her friend knocks on the bathroom door, telling her it's time to go. When no reply is given, she opens the door, only to see a completely empty bathroom. The friend laughs, comments "she is good" in subtitles, and leaves.

This was funny because in Russian the friend said "smylas'" - which is slang for "gone", literally meaning "washed away" or - you can see it coming - "flushed." There is just NO way to translate puns, and this brings me to my rant of a couple of weeks ago - EVERYTHING is better in the language of the original.

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