Monday, June 4, 2012

Watching the Matrix in French

La Matrice
Used under fair use
My wife and daughter were in Nancy while I had to stay home and try to finish the next chapter of my book. It was a long, painful weekend and I decided to destress by rewatching The Matrix.

I first watched Matrice (Matrix) in English with French subtitles to improve my French and noticed that the subtitles were, well, wrong. They were shorter and didn't match what I would have said in French.

Then I decided to watch in again in French, but I didn't know how to shut off the subtitles and discovered that the dubbed French (dubbed in Quebec, according to the DVD) didn't match the French subtitles, but they did match closer to what I would have expected to say (e.g., simpler French). Sometimes, though, the French wasn't simpler (je ne peux pas faire ça versus j'y arriveria jamais) and sometimes the subtitles didn't translate the English word (merde, French for "shit", was omitted from the subtitles but not in the dubbing).

It was also interesting in the interrogation scene where Neo is demanding his phone call. To the American audience, it's perfectly natural that he's asserting his rights. Unfortunately, in the subtitles Neo kept demanding telephoner,  saying, more or less "I want a telephone" instead of "I want my phone call". It seems a subtle change, but one which seemed like it could make Neo sound like a whining bitch if you didn't know he had a right to a telephone. Or maybe everyone outside the US knows that the US legal system guarantees this right? I suspect that might be the case given how pervasive US media is.

Interesting, in the dubbing for that scene Neo was saying he wanted his avocat (lawyer) of a telephone. That seems like it would translate universally, so I'm surprised it wasn't used for the subtitles.

Later, my wife informed me that she had the same problem when she tried to learn English by watching English movies with English subtitles: the subtitles can't match because they have to be shorted to give people time to read them (note: trying to brush up on a language by reading foreign subtitles sucks because you get caught up in the film and forget to read the subtitles).

It's interesting because I'm so used to "foreign" films being dubbed, but now I have to realize that this is a foreign film. I don't live in the US any more and realizing it was foreign to me was sort of unsettling, like a splinter in the mind.


  1. I have it on good authority that in The Matrix there is a monologue/tirade in French that pushes the boundaries of the language.

    1. That would be from The Matrix Reloaded:
      I love French wine, like I love the French language. I have sampled every language, French is my favorite. Fantastic language. Especially to curse with. Nom de dieu de putain de bordel de merde de saloperie de connard d'enculer ta mère. It's like wiping your arse with silk. I love it.
      You'll have to translate that for yourself. It's pretty harsh :)

  2. A splinter in the mind, not a balm on the soul?

    1. "splinter in the mind" is a quote from the Matrix movie.

  3. I've also found watching movies to be of no help with language learning. The question is, what does help (other than immersion)? I've been taking classes, doing Rosetta Stone, reading, etc, but still my progress is slower than I'd like (it should be noted that everything is slower than I'd like!). Any tips, other than marrying a French woman? ;-)

    1. Strongrrl, well, while I highly recommend marrying a French woman, mine's not been terribly helpful with learning French :)

      Short of moving there, I would recommend not using Rosetta Stone. In the language learning community, they're well known for being far stronger on marketing than pedagogy. In fact, they're more or less scorned. I don't know if they're as bad as people say as I've never tried it personally, but there are so many well-regarded resources out there, many of which are cheap or free, that Rosetta Stone is not appealing to me.

      I'd probably take Pimsleur (for pronunciation and grammar drilling) supplemented with a strong course such as Assimil. Unsurprisingly, I have a blog entry about how to learn a foreign language :) That entry is a combination of my personal experience and talking to "language geeks".

    2. not sure about learning per se, but once at a moderate level, i can see (target-language) movies being a nice easy way of getting really familiar with the language, as well as with the culture.

  4. yeah, i see that all the time (in both directions -- i'm a brit who grew up in France, and still watch a good few French films).

    as you noted, subtitles usually have to be condensed so they can fit into a couple of lines. and dubbing is only slightly less constrained, since they (usually) make a concerted effort to lip-synch.

    (at this point it would of course be wrong of me not to link to this :-) ).

  5. "Like a splinter in the mind"
    Nice reference to the line from the movie. :)