I have a favorite t-shirt. It’s from the Flickerings film festival. It’s bright red, and on the back it says “So many subtitles, so little time.”

I have friends who groan when they learn a movie is subtitled, and some of them lose interest entirely when they learn a film is in a foreign language. Me, if I charted my rate of enjoyment, I’d probably find that I enjoy films from outside of America far more often than enjoy films made in America. Subtitles don’t bother me at all. In fact, lately I’ve been watching American films with the subtitles turned on, just because I tend to appreciate the dialogue more when I don’t miss key lines in the crowd noise or the actor’s mumbling.

But have you ever watched a foreign-language film on DVD with the subtitles turned off?

I recently watched Karen Shakhnazarov’s film Day of the Full Moon without the benefit of English subtitles. Imagine watching Crash or Magnolia but not understanding a word they’re saying, and you’ll have some idea of my experience. It was fascinating, and it liberated me from the “tyranny of the narrative” so that I could examine interesting juxtapositions, settings, and tones. I do hope to see Day of the Full Moon again with English subtitles, but that’s currently unavailable on Region 1, so… here’s hoping.

I’ve been thinking about subtitles today, though, and how I often wonder whether what I’m reading is really what they people are saying to each other.

Today, Jeffrey Wells pointed to an alarming commentary on the subtitles being provided with the Region 1 DVD of Let the Right One In. This was one of my favorite films of 2008. The inaccuracy of the subtitles gives a new layer of horror to this memorably frightening film.

Any bilingual Looking Closer readers out there? Have you ever encountered a case of bad subtitles?

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