I was watching TV the other night, Globo, a Brazilian channel, trying to get better about understanding spoken Portuguese and the movie Spanglish came on. If you don’t know this movie, it’s about an illegal from Mexico trying to make it in southern California with her daughter and her involvement on multiple levels with the rich American family she works for. It’s a good, complex movie with all sorts of levels, about love and family and identity, and the acting is good, too.
One of the key points about the movie is that the woman doesn’t speak English, only Spanish, at the beginning. A lot of the movie is about communication between parents and children, men and women, and different cultures. And problems with communication and learning how to speak to each other.
This movie was dubbed into Portuguese, and the Spanish parts were left untranslated as in the original English version (your experience watching this movie probably varies a lot depending on what langauges you speak). Anyway, as you probably know Portuguese and Spanish are not so different. Some things, totally different, some things similar with small differences, and quite a few things identical save perhaps for accent or pronunciation.
There’s a key scene where the mother is furious with the male head of the household and is ranting at him, with her daughter translating for her from Spanish into…Portuguese. I was struck watching this how ridiculous this movie was dubbed into Portuguese when the daughter simply repeated almost exactly, word for word, what her mother had said so that the man could understand. I mean, WTF? Lots of disbelief you have to suspend here.
Another problem I’ve noticed watching TV, more with subtitled comedies from the United States which I can understand better, is how often they don’t even try to translate a joke. Some of this is cultural differences, or wordplay that works in English but not Portuguese, but I just got to wonder if the Brazilians understand why some shows are funny at all.
All in all, it is interesting how dominant American TV and movies are in Brazil, and around the world more generally, and how this probably leads to all sorts of things weirder than just missing a few jokes. I mean, the world has this view into American life, distorted as it is by Hollywood, that Americans do not have of the rest of the world. Even if America wasn’t dominant economically and militarily, the Hollywood machine would probably still make us look dominant, make people think about America, make people want to move there, and make some people have strong feelings about it (good and bad).