A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to see an advanced screening of the French film ‘Les Intouchables’, which is being released late October in Australia.  Finally!  It was a fantastic film with great acting, hilarious scripting, but above all, great subtitling!

Up until now, subtitles on French films have always distracted me from what’s really happening in the film.  I would always question the translators choice of words, and think “why have the chosen that way to say that line, that’s not the same word at all!”  Until I finally understood the art of subtitling…

What most people don’t understand, is that there are many rules to subtitling a film, and it is very tricky!  Here are a few rules:

  • every line must contain about 6 words
  • every subtitle must contain no more than 2 lines
  • leave no more than 2 seconds to read one subtitle, or no longer than the time is takes for the actor to say the line
  • a word in italics is a title
  • translated texts on screen are in capital letters

Not to mention that cultural ideas, jokes, slang, and the general sense of the sentence has to be translated in such a way which is quickly comprehendible to a person from another cultural background.  It’s hard, I’ve tried it!

Now that you’ve read this, watch this:

– Notice how the actors generally say more words than the subtitles.  But the meaning of the phrases are exactly the same.  Also notice how they don’t translate putain

I hope this gives you more appreciation for subtitling, as you can see, all of this counting makes it more sub-totaling!

Not to mention idiomatic expressions which don’t translate well.  Like ‘oh my goodness!’ could be translated in French to ‘Ah, la vache!’ 😉


3 thoughts on “Subtotaling

    • Miriam, you discovered my subtle mention of ‘vache’ in my blog. Planning to add him in nearly all my blogs. Goes with the title you see. 🙂
      As to your comment, yes, the French use cows in many a sense! You especially hear it’s use in the north, where there are… lots of cows surprisingly. The most common usages are definitely the exclamation ‘la vache!’ or the adverb ‘vachement’ – ‘c’est vachement bien ce que tu as ecrit!’
      Thanks for sharing your find with me!

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